By W. Bruce Cameron
I don’t recall ever having expressed an interest in kayaking. Any activity that requires the participants to wear a helmet and a life jacket is plainly something in which I should not be involved. In fact, I pretty much avoid all sports which cannot be played while holding a hot dog. Nonetheless, for my birthday this year my children purchased me kayak lessons at the local recreation center.
Now, for you uninitiated, a kayak is a thin sliver of boat into which the victim is hermetically sealed by way of a rubber “skirt.” Picture being adhered to a water ski by a suction cup and being handed a paddle that looks like a helicopter rotor–that’s kayaking. A kayak is about as stable as a guest on the Jerry Springer Show–it feels as if it will dive for the bottom at the slightest excuse. Kayaks were invented by Eskimos to be used in their death-wish rituals, and now can be found every weekend on the local rivers, flitting about like giant psychotic water bugs.
Fortunately, or so I thought at the time, my lessons were scheduled to take place in a swimming pool, where I felt it unlikely that I would encounter any white water. My instructor, a bearded fellow named Tom, lined up six of us in our wobbly boats in about five feet of water, and proceeded to tell us that our first lesson would be in how to tip over.
How to tip over! That’s like telling a pilot that his first lesson in flying will be in how to crash. I held up my hand. “Uh, Tom? I think my kayak already knows how to tip over.”
Tom was amused. No, he explained, I had misunderstood. When out in the rapids, the strong currents sometimes flipped the kayaks over. But instead of sinking, the kayak’s rubber seal would keep the vessel buoyant, so all we needed to do was learn how to flip back up.
“Uh, Tom?” My hand was back in the air. “Why would we want to go out in the rapids when we have this nice pool?”
“Let’s get started,” Tom suggested. He walked us through the whole maneuver, and then, probably concerned that I might feel I wasn’t getting my money’s worth from these lessons, he said we would start with me. He reached out and flipped my kayak over.
I was plunged into the wet. Gamely I followed Tom’s instructions, rotating my paddle and thrusting my hips. I did not rise into the air. Instead, the shallow end of the pool entered my nose and began washing my brain in chlorinated water.
Tom heaved me back up, and I came out sputtering. “Whoa, Mr. Cameron! You just missed me with your paddle, there,” Tom warned.
“That’s because my eyes are so full of water I can’t aim properly,” I choked.
“Do you know what you are doing wrong?” Tom asked.
“Drowning?” I suggested.
“You’re supposed to hip thrust AFTER you rotate the paddle,” Tom chided. “Let’s try it again.”
Back into the drink. Unexpectedly, I found myself thinking of my Grandfather, probably because I could hear his voice telling me to “move into the light.” I tried to remember the advice he used to give me. “Son,” he’d say proudly, “you’re a dim-witted lad who will never amount to anything.”
Right, Grandpa! So why am I upside down under a kayak, hydrating my lungs, when I could be at home on my couch living up to my lack of potential? I gathered what little strength I had and kicked hard against the bottom of the kayak, popping out like a champagne cork. I swam over to the pool ladder and climbed out.
“Mr. Cameron, where are you going?” Tom demanded.
I turned to face him and the rest of the class. I was still wearing the rubber skirt from the kayak, which stuck out from my hips like a Tupperware tutu. It may not have been my most manly moment. “Tom,” I said, “if God had meant for me to kayak, he wouldn’t have invented the outboard motor.” I went home and watched a bass fishing show on television.
Now, THAT’S boating.