In a word, Sunday was AMAZING. My friend Tiffany invited me on a kayak outing she had planned for her birthday. I’d never been kayaking before, and I love trying new things, so I jumped at the chance. Lucky for you, I brought along two cameras: my regular camera, and I also bought a disposable waterproof camera that I could bring on the kayak. Tiffany had a disposable waterproof camera too, and between the two of us, we got some great shots. Get ready for lots of cool pictures!
There were 8 of us, so we met at Tiffany’s house and piled into two cars, and headed out to Oxnard, a city on the coast about an hour northwest of Los Angeles. Tiffany had arranged our kayak adventure through Blue Ocean Kayaking, and we found the marina and boarded the boat that would take us to our destination.
Our party of eight:
Me and Tiffany, the birthday girl:
Blue Ocean Kayaking specializes in kayak tours of Channel Islands National Park. Our boat was headed to Anacapa Island, a long, thin island (actually, three islands) located 14 miles offshore.
The boat ride took about an hour, and we encountered what ended being one of the big highlights of the day: DOLPHINS! Tons of ’em, all around the boat. They were leaping and breaching in every direction:
The boat stopped and we all grabbed our cameras and started snapping away. Then we started up again, and eventually reached top speed. I was still hanging out at the bow of the boat, and noticed 4 or 5 dolphins, just under the bow, racing with us, dodging and weaving under and over each other. They stayed there for a couple minutes, keeping up with the boat:
Meanwhile, we were getting closer to Anacapa Island, which was shrouded in fog and reminded me of “Jurassic Park”:
We got close to the island, and the crew dropped the anchor and started unloading the kayaks. They were two-person kayaks, and my kayak partner was Maggie – the same Maggie I went to a firing range with and who let me raid her tomato garden. I love Maggie, and was happy to spend hours with her in a kayak, and plus, she’s a lot shorter than I am, so I could sit in the back and have no problem seeing over her!
It took a few minutes to unload the kayaks, get suited up with life jackets and helmets, and get everyone into their kayaks, and I’ll admit that while I was waiting our turn, I started getting nervous. I wasn’t scared – I love water and have spent tons of time on boats – but I was nervous because I had no frame of reference for what to expect. A trip like this, at my heaviest, would never be a possibility. At 402 pounds, I’d account for slightly more than 80% of the kayak’s 500-pound weight capacity, and since no one else on this trip weighed 98 pounds or less, I would’ve been screwed. But that would never even come up, because I would’ve never agreed to come along in the first place. I’d be mortified of all the ways I could potentially stand out or humiliate myself: There probably wouldn’t be life jackets that would fit around me. I might not fit in the kayak at all. Should the kayak capsize, I might not be able to get back in. All those things would’ve crossed my mind, and I’d have responded to any kayak invitations with a polite “no, thanks” and then spent who-knows-how-long feeling shitty because of it.
Now, at 235 pounds, none of those concerns are actual concerns anymore, but my brain is still hard-wired to think that they might be. I still held my breath and hoped, as I was putting on my life jacket, that I’d be able to buckle it. I hoped, when I got in the kayak, that my weight wouldn’t completely submerge the back end of it and force the crew to figure out a non-offensive way to say that I wouldn’t be able to participate in the rest of the trip.
But there were no problems. I didn’t sink any kayaks or flop around anywhere like a beached whale. And my fears quickly dissipated once I was actually in our kayak, and they were replaced with a much better feeling – a feeling of excitement and pride: I’m in a kayak. I’M IN A MOTHERFUCKING KAYAK!
There couldn’t have been a better place or day to pop my kayaking cherry. It was overcast, which was great, because it wasn’t unbearably hot or bright. It wasn’t windy either, so the ocean was really calm, and the water very clear. Our location was breathtaking. Anacapa Island is all cliffs and bluffs, with lots of rock formations and coves to explore. Here’s a couple photos of the rest of our group, with the island behind:
Our guide was Tyler, who was practically born in a kayak and was very friendly and knowledgeable. After we were all in our kayaks, he laid out the plan: we’re going to head east along the island’s coast, and because if the ideal conditions, we’d be able to go in all the island’s caves.
Wait… what? CAVES?!? The trip just got even more awesome!
Anacapa Island was formed by volcanoes, and the coast is dotted with caves. Some of them were small, like the first one we went to. It was only big enough to allow one kayak in at a time, through passages only a couple feet wider than the kayaks themselves. Once inside, there was no room to turn around, so we had to paddle backwards through the passage we entered in. In this picture, Maggie and I are waiting our turn to enter that first cave – you can see the narrow entrance, and two kayakers entering it, just above the bow of our kayak:
I was skeptical on the boat as to why we needed helmets, but entering that first cave made me glad I had one, because it was dark, and some places in the caves had low ceilings, and volcanic rock can be sharp!
Here’s Tyler entering another cave:
The caves were so unbelievably cool. They reminded me a lot of the cenotes in Mexico that I snorkeled in. Maggie and I paddled into the darkness, not knowing what was coming, and then enter into a huge vaulted cavern that had shafts of lights from other openings and breaks in the rock. Some of them had only one entrance, but others had multiple entrances, so we could come out a different way than we went in. Here we are exiting one of the caves:
A couple times, Tyler gave us choices:
Tyler: “The easy way out is to the right, and the more difficult way out is to the left.”
Me (without missing a beat): “Maggie, we’re going to the left.”
The last cave we went in had a big surprise inside – a sea lion, perched on a rock. My waterproof camera didn’t have a flash, but she’s in this photo (the arrow is pointing to her nose):
After we hit all the caves, we headed to our final destination, Arch Rock, a 40-foot natural arch at the eastern tip of the island. We paddled through the arch, then turned around and paddled back through it a second time:
The boat had dropped anchor near the arch, so after that, we paddled back to the boat. We passed the few man-made structures on the island: a lighthouse built in 1932, and the island’s only dock. Dock isn’t the right word – there’s no safe harbor for boats, but they can pull up close to this platform, and climb a ladder off their boat to get onshore, and then climb the stairs to the top. The crane is to lift supplies and cargo off boats:
See all the white stuff that looks like it’s dripping down the cliffs in the lighthouse picture? That’s guano – bird shit – from the cormorants that live on the island.
Kayaking with Maggie was fantastic. We spent around 3 1/2 hours in our kayak, and we learned the ropes quickly. Since I was in the back, I was supposed to be in charge of steering, but we both were continually making adjustments to stay on course and go where we wanted to go. If you ever end up on a kayak with Maggie, know these two things: 1) She’s really good at spotting starfish clinging to rocks, and 2) She’s really good at finding dead animals. We came across at least two dead birds, and a giant bloated sea lion carcass (we were smart and stayed upwind of it).
During the second half of the excursion, the caves and points of interest were a little farther apart, and Maggie and I found our rhythm and booked it across the open water. It wasn’t the prettiest kayaking – we were out-of-sync more than we were in-sync, and that led to a lot of paddle smacking (which would be a fantastic sexual euphemism, don’t you think? I can’t wait to tell Maggie’s hubby, Mat, how much Maggie and I smacked paddles on Sunday). But we cruised along! Between Tyler, our party, and a few other parties, there were 8 kayaks in our group, and my secret goal, whenever we had some distance to cover, was to be the first kayak to arrive. Often times, we were. Maggie and I never discussed my competitive nature, but she was obviously on the same page, and we turned it into a workout. It felt really wonderful just to be physically able to lead the pack. I know we weren’t actually racing or anything, but for the kid that was always picked last during recess games growing up, it felt really cool to leave other kayaks in our wake.
Back on the boat, we changed into dry clothes, and dug in to the wonderful lunch Tiffany brought along. I was just starting to doze off when I noticed everyone rushing to the sides of the boat. The pod of dolphins had returned, and they were on the move, breaching all around us, as far as the eye could see, in every direction:
A day has passed since I got home from our kayak trip, and as I relive the experience while I write this post, a part of me is still a little shocked that I was able to go on this trip at all. So much has changed in the last year and a half. Most noticeably, I’m a helluva lot thinner. But I’m also much stronger, have much more energy, and I think I’m braver, too – and I was reminded of all those things, time and time again, throughout the day on Sunday. While the dolphins and the caves and the sea lion and the arch were all memorable, what’s really gonna stick in my head is that I had such an amazing time because I earned it. The strength, the energy, the courage – they all came from inside me, they all came from months and months of hard work and dedication, and now that they’re here, they’re not going anywhere.
They’re. Not. Going. Anywhere.
Keep it up, David!