As each salty wave crashed into me, I struggled to keep hold of my paddle and baseball cap. I began timing my breaths of air with each pause between the endless gushes of ocean water that were becoming more and more violent. Down the cove, my bright yellow board drifted farther away from me with each gust of wind.
As each salty wave crashed into me, I struggled to keep hold of my paddle and baseball cap. I began timing my breaths of air with each pause between the endless gushes of ocean water that were becoming more and more violent. Down the cove, my bright yellow board drifted farther away from me with each gust of wind. It’s strange the millions of thoughts that run through your mind when faced with your own possible end. How careless I was to leave the lifejacket on the board, how silly I was for being so far from shore on my first paddle out, how easy it would be to become a drowning stastistic.
We arrived in Nassau on January 2nd, after a last minute rush to get vacation time from work in the new year. The stress of the holidays and looming winter months ahead made it easy to book a sunny destination at an All Inclusive Resort despite it being one of our least favourite ways to travel. It’s not that I’m opposed to sunshine, sandy beaches or a constant flow of alcohol available 24 hours a day. Normally I would rather explore, stay and eat where the locals would…but I needed a break from winter and day to day life, and the opportunity to have zero responsibility was calling my name.
Not wanting to put on any vacation weight, I made a point of walking the beach a few times each day. Although our resort didn’t offer paddleboarding to it’s guests, the resort next to ours had half a dozen boards. I watched enviously from the beach as the neighbouring patrons moved awkwardly without lessons within the swimming buoys, most people laying on the paddle boards and suntanning rather than standing up and paddling. Before we left for the Bahamas, I had researched a Stand Up Paddleboarding rental shop called Pappa Surf, just a few kilometres away from our resort, and we paid them a visit on one of first few days in Nassau. Excellent service and friendly staff, they offered to deliver my rental board and paddle to my resort the next day at whatever time suited me. The next morning I waited in my resort lobby, excited to get an opportunity to try out paddleboarding in the beautiful blue waters off the Bahamian coast.
I’ve been paddling for just one season, having bought my own paddleboard last spring. I went out at least 2-3 times a week over the spring, summer and autumn, on lakes and rivers close by my home. It had been a few months since I’d been out on my board, and my feet were itching to get back on water. Maybe too eager, I strapped my lifejacket to the ropes on the board, and pushed off the shore into the crystal clear blue sea.
I paddled towards one of the points of the cove, forgetting how distances over water can be deceiving, and not remembering how quickly ocean conditions can change. About 20 minutes of tough paddling into the wind, the waves started to come from all directions as I left the protection of the cove and moved to the more open waters along the coastline. After taking a look back at how far I had gone from the resort, I decided to turn the board around and begin making my way back towards shore. I made it about half way back before a wave hit my board from one direction and a blast of wind hit me from another, toppled me backwards and pushed me into the water. Thankfully I have had a few (hundred) practice falls into water when I first was learning to paddleboard, so I wasn’t panicked when I fell. I fell away from the board so that I wouldn’t hit my head, and quickly resurfaced with my paddle and hat in hand. I glanced around for my board, and saw it sitting a few metres away. I took a breath and began swimming towards my board, thinking after a couple of short strokes, I’d be safely back up. The stable, light plastic board that seemed to move slowly when I was standing on top, seemed to have transformed into a leaf in a breeze once it had lost it’s rider. For every few strokes I took towards the board, the wind carried my board double the distance away from me. I foolishly held onto the paddle and hat, fearful of losing them. Looking back I can clearly see how much more valuable to survival letting go of the paddle and hat to focus on retrieving the board would have been. It goes without saying, wearing the lifejacket would also have been helpful. Nevertheless, I found myself far off the shore, wondering if I had the strength to keep afloat for more than a few more minutes.
I could hear voices carrying over the waves, waves that seemed to be getting larger and more powerful. I spotted a kayaker in the distance, and hesistated yelling for help, embarassed by the situation I had gotten myself into. Lost for any other ideas, I started yelling and waving my arm. Starting with an “Excuse me”, “Hey kayaker”, to finally “PLEASE HELP ME”, my frustration grew as she couldn’t hear me. The wind was blowing across her to me, allowing her voice to carry and mine to be drown out by the crashing waves and wind. Hopeless and full of a fear I had never known up until now, I stopped screaming and waited for what fate would do next.
What might have been moments later, but felt like an eternity, the kayaker looked my way. I started waving again and shrieking for help, crying from happiness that someone had finally spotted me. She called to her friend, and both started paddling towards me. Her friend gave me his lifejacket and paddled towards my board in an attempt to bring it back to me. So relieved that I wasn’t alone, I didn’t notice a jetskier had approached us to see what was going on. Seeing me in the water, he tried to bring me up onto the back of the jetski. I had no energy to stay afloat on my own any longer, and couldn’t bring myself up onto the jetski from the water. In the meantime, my husband Bruce had seen me fall in and start to struggle, had borrowed a kayak from the resort and had began paddling towards where I had fallen in. Arriving just after the jetskier, I held onto Bruce’s kayak while the jetskier left and went to help the kayakers who were struggling to get a hold of my board. A few minutes later the jetskier drove back towards us, my board on the back of the jetski, and dropped it off for me to hop on. Safely back on my board with my lifejacket now tightly on, I said thank you to the jetskier, who in true cowboy fashion tipped his head and waved goodbye.
Making our way back into shore, the rescue boat finally pulled up along side us. One of the lifeguards started yelling at the kayaker who had given me his life jacket to stay afloat while he went to retrieve my board. He told him he needed to be wearing his jacket at all times. Laughing, he told them he thought the drowning girl needed it more and told them they were too little too late at their attempted rescue. The rescue boat then circled towards me and the guards told me I had been using the paddle backwards, and should be using it as a scoop, and that’s why I had fallen. I thanked them for their (useless) advice and we all paddled back towards the beach.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of people on the beach had witnessed my fall and called out for help. I had no way of knowing this, but was so thankful I had people, even strangers, looking out for me. A few of them clapped and cheered when I made it back to shore and I bashfully waved a hello at them. Ashamed I had been so careless and disrespectful of both the ocean and the wind, I sat beside my board on the beach to catch my breath and try to understand what had just happened. Half an hour later, I went back out on the board again, much to the amazement of the onlookers. I had methaphorically fallen off my bicycle and I need to find the courage to get back on and try again. Lessons learned, I stayed close to shore and wore my life jacket.
I’ve been lucky enough to have many adventures. I have learned from both personal experience, and through the experience of others, there is danger and risk in exploring new places. Ironically my “safe” holiday turned into a education on chance and fate. Even though I love gaining insight when travelling, I’m hoping my next lesson/vacation comes with gentler coaching.