I spent the second week of my month off in beautiful St. Croix, and it was a memorable time. But there was a day that I’d like to forget about.
It started when I decided to take my seven-year-old son Isaac out in a tandem sea kayak, something he’s enjoyed several times before. It looked like a storm was brewing, but I thought it would be a while before it reached us (yes, that’s the “dumbass” part – I’m still kicking myself for having such lousy judgment).
Our destination was a small beach not far from our hotel. My wife and our five-year-old daughter Hannah decided to walk to the beach and meet us there, where we figured we’d collect shells and maybe do a little snorkeling.
The waves were choppier than usual, and we were paddling against the current most of the time, so it was a lot of work to get anywhere. But it was worth the effort – Isaac loved riding the waves, yelling “woo-hoo!” every time one hit us.
Shortly after we reached the beach we saw that the storm was coming quicker than expected, so we packed up and got back in the kayak. As we paddled away from the beach, the wind picked up and the water got even choppier. Isaac was still having a blast, but I was getting worried – for good reason, as it turned out.
A few minutes later a wave turned us over, knocking us both into the sea. I came up for air, but I couldn’t see Isaac – and quickly realized that he was trapped under the kayak.
I swam beneath the upturned kayak and saw him struggling to get out from under it, so I grabbed him and pulled him to the surface. Right then and there he looked at me and said, “Dad, did you just save my life?” I said, “yeah, I think I did.” His simple reply was “thanks.”
But we weren’t out of danger yet. The current was taking us in right where the waves were crashing against some large rocks beneath a cliff. I knew that if I didn’t get us out of there we’d be smashed against them.
There was no way I could get us both into the kayak without turning over again, so I told Isaac to grab onto the back of the kayak, and then held the front of it with one hand and swam as hard as I could. The only way to steer clear of the rocky shore was to swim against the current – hard enough by itself, but near impossible while pulling a kayak with a 70-pound kid attached to it (especially when waves are tossing you around).
I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. I figured if I failed to get us clear of the rocks, I’d let go of the kayak, then grab Isaac and hold him in front of me and let the rocks hit me rather than him. Apparently the thought of that gave me enough motivation to swim even harder, and after about 15 minutes we were far enough away from the rocks that I could make a beeline for the beach.
To Isaac’s extreme credit, instead of panicking he helped keep us moving by kicking his legs as he hung on. When we were close enough to the shore, my wife swam out and grabbed our son, hugging him with all her might. I pulled the kayak to land, then dropped to the beach exhausted.
Needless to say, we feared that Isaac would be pretty shaken up by the experience (he was). We reassured him a lot that day, and I laid next to him that night in case he had trouble sleeping (he did). But a few days later – when the weather was calm and the waves were small – Isaac surprised us and decided that he wanted to go out in a tandem kayak again. We’ve always taught our children to face their fears (within reason), and he didn’t want to be scared of kayaking since it was something he enjoyed.
So, we got another kayak and paddled out to sea again. Thankfully, it was a much better experience this time :)