Kayaking looks like a lot of fun on the surface, but that fun comes at a cost. I’d been watching people glide through the water in their kayaks and soar through the air on the tops of the small waves that break on Palolem Beach in Goa, India ever since the day I arrived. We were constantly talking about joining them, but kept putting it off, because we knew that as fun as it all looked, there was also a lot of physical exertion involved. In other words: we would be getting a workout.
To be fair, I was really the only one who had a problem with this, but you have to remember that I found myself in Goa a mere three months after trekking around the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. With that month-long walk, I had basically gotten my exercise for the current decade out of the way and was looking forward to staying mostly sedentary for the next eight years. The prospect of giving my muscles a workout so soon after the previous one was hard to accept, so I basically spent the first month in Goa doing little besides eating or floating around in the ocean and only occasionally hopping on a bus or renting a motorcycle to explore some areas apart from the three beaches I called home during my stay.
I’m pretty sure I would have left Goa without ever touching a paddle, if it hadn’t been for one of the guys I was hanging out with during my stay on Palolem. Rather than discuss kayaking over beers in the evening, only to forget about it once the beers wore off the next morning as we had been doing, he simply showed up one afternoon with the news that he had rented a kayak and asked if I wanted to join him. That was a smart move. With no time to really think about it, I simply jumped up and said “let’s go!”
I did spend a few moments debating whether to bring my camera, but I wanted to get some photos of the beach from out in the water, so I grabbed it. I had a waterproof diving bag to keep it dry, but I picked up that bag for very little money in Thailand and it had yet to be tested, apart from a few rainstorms, so I wasn’t too confident as to how waterproof it actually was. I guess this was a good a time as any to find out. Of course, I would prefer to not capsize at all and just keep myself and the bag safely inside the kayak.
We headed down the beach and talked to one of the guys standing around renting out kayaks. I got one with only a minimum of bargaining and less than ten minutes after leaving my chair on the porch, we were in the water. Getting past the small waves that break on Palolem beach ended up being much easier than I expected and next thing we knew, we were out in deeper waters. The ease with which we got out there was not a good thing, since it resulted in our goals for the little kayaking excursion becoming much more ambitious. We had originally set out to just paddle around a bit, but were now excited about rounding the rocky outcropping on the south end of Palolem and heading to Patnem, the next beach.
Before we set out on that bad idea, I found a reasonably calm spot in the water and decided to risk taking out my camera and snapping a few photos of the now fairly distant beach. I managed to get a couple of shots without dropping the camera in the water, but quickly realized I should have just left it in my room. Apart from not being able to get a straight horizon, most of the pictures ended up blurry and the few that were somewhat sharp were simply boring. At least the camera stayed dry. For now.
Photos taken, we started paddling south and reached Patnem beach without too much difficulty. Once we got there, we noticed a bunch of jagged rocks jutting out of the water and quite a few more just below the surface. We also noticed that the waves were considerably bigger here than on our beach. As we were processing this information and trying to decide whether we should paddle all the way in to the beach of just turn back around, the waves got bigger still and made the decision for us.
A massive one (relatively speaking; I’m sure any surfer would have probably laughed at the ‘oh crap!’ expressions on our faces) was suddenly rolling toward us and it was already too close to do much about it. I quickly turned my kayak into the wave, hoping to minimize the impact. The other guy took a different route and turned parallel to it. He was quickly dumped out of his boat and washed about 20 meters closer to shore. I was launched in the same direction and actually almost hit him, but I did somehow manage to stay inside the tiny hollowed-out chunk of plastic that was keeping me dry.
He told me he hit some of the rocks hiding beneath the water and got scraped up a bit, but it didn’t seem too serious. Nevertheless, we were now pretty sure we didn’t want to make it to the actual beach and were perfectly happy turning around. The only thing standing in our way was a succession of fairly large waves. We paddled furiously to gain ground after each one, only to lose most of that ground when the next one grabbed hold of our kayaks. It was pretty frustrating and very exhausting, but we eventually managed to get out past the breakers.
Once there, we had to paddle all the way back to our beach, from where we could hopefully just ride the much smaller waves all the way to shore. Naturally, it was here, during perhaps the easiest part of our whole kayaking adventure, that I finally got to test my waterproof bag.
It all began well enough. I caught a great little wave and was soaring toward the shore on its crest, when some idiot who had been standing motionless several meters away when I caught the wave decided to suddenly back up right into my path. I basically had two options: turn to avoid him and get dumped into the water or teach him to pay more attention to his surroundings and plow right into him. Shockingly, I chose the first option. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t really thinking; it was just instinct.
Looking back now, I don’t know whether to be proud or disappointed that my instinct was to sacrifice myself for some random dumbass. I’m leaning toward the second and that in turn makes me proud of myself once again and I end up with the same conclusion I always reach: I’m, amazing! Also amazing: my waterproof bag.
After braving giant tidal waves and jagged rocks and remaining upright throughout, a tiny wave ended up flipping my kayak and dumping me and my camera into the ocean less than two meters from the shore. I fished the bag out of the water quickly and happily discovered that the cheap knockoff I had bought in Thailand was indeed waterproof, at least waterproof enough to survive five seconds in the ocean. My camera had survived!
Worse than wiping out two minutes from safety was the realization that I had landed several hundred meters down the beach from the guy whose kayak I now needed to return. I was completely exhausted from all the paddling, especially the effort it took to get away from the other beach, that I can’t think of many things I wanted to do less than drag my kayak a few hundred meters along the shore.
In the end, I got way more exercise than I bargained for on this day and when combined with the Annapurna trek, more exercise than I had planned on getting all decade. That said, I can proudly claim that this kayaking excursion was my last moment of weakness. It is now almost two years later and apart from a few short bike rides, I have not had any real exercise since. Here’s hoping I manage to keep that streak alive!