When I Almost Died Paddle Boarding in Marin
If anything else, I learned I could float well.
Admittedly, I was not the most athletic of children. Or active, for that matter. Up until sixteen when I, by happenstance, came across running, my body shape was something akin to a Chiclet left outside in a heavy Spring rain: bloated, swollen, rounded on all sides. Naturally, in those younger years, the only physical activities I thought fondly involved bodies water. Buoyancy was a welcomed friend; I could execute an upright dead man’s float with an inherent ease. A talent honed from my corpulent youth I’d later find damn-near lifesaving in my mid twenties — struggling get back up on my SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) somewhere along Rodeo Beach.
I thought of myself as a decent paddle boarder. Well, allow me to reiterate that statement with some honest sincerity: I had open-ocean paddle boarded twice before in the Gulf of Mexico and managed to only fall off my rented piece of thirteen-foot polycarbonate a handful of times. By my low expectations, I was a seaman, by most accords, who could bare the physical requirements afforded by any open ocean endeavor.
Perhaps taking-up crabbing off the Alaskan Coastline was in my not-so-distant future.
“How long are you planning to be out,” questioned my generous friend, sun-tanned and forehead vein popping as we folded the back seat of my ‘08 Prius to make room for the board he so generously offered me.
“And are you sure you’re OK going by yourself?”
The Prius’ hatch finally clicked with that oh-so satisfying, metallic noise from what seemed like hours sparing spent mulishly folding and bending and contorting the car’s cabin.
“Absolutely,” I said, attempting to leave no room or air for comment.
“I became a fairly good distance swimmer when I was fourteen...so I’ve got that goin’ for me too.”
He looked worried, despite my beaming optimism. But, regardless, I was sent off with a far from auspicious goodbye toward Rodeo Beach.
There was no going back — partially because neither one of us was too keen on wiggling-free the board from my Prius just yet.
Marin is where I can see myself retiring to write fiction at sixty-five, God-willing by seventy, without a care in the world. I’ll flock happily amongst the other wide-eyed middle-aged white men, freed from their Apple or Intel desk jobs, staring into the San Pablo Bay at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon. In those long-sought after days, I imagine the only one thing straining my existence would be the tangled leashes between my legs—feed through by my two rescued tlat coat retrievers.
Nonetheless, that dystopian third-act of my life is decades away from now. My current self could be seen trudging a borrowed board through the grainy, gravel-like sands that blanket the Pacific waters of the Marin Headlands. Like Goldilocks leaving a trail of breadcrumbs from her home (my distant parking spot), I made sure to mentally annotate my surroundings.
And it’s right about here, at the tidal edge of Rodeo Beach, where I see the swaggering waters in the distance. Puffing themselves up, crashing harder into the sea rocks, pillowing themselves with churned-up foam. Like a rabid black lab.
If there were turkey vultures present, they would’ve been circling.
The ice-cold Pacific began slapping my bare skin as I continued to leave the shoreline in the distance. Because I thought I didn’t need a wetsuit.
The rain began to fall on my salt licked hair. Because I thought the weather looked fine when I left my apartment.
The wind forced seawater into my eyes. Because I thought there was no need for goggles or sunglasses.
I thought I was prepared to paddle board off Marin’s coastline. Because I didn’t bother looking-up what preparation exactly entailed.
Fast-forward thirty-odd minutes and a two-hundred-yards from the shoreline, and I’m something like a wet sneaker in a commercial dryer. Kud-unk. Kud-unk. Kud-unk.
No matter how hard I tried to regain my footing atop the board, I can’t.
The pressure of my body screaming, begging me to gasp for air grew more in both volume and desperation. Like tuna packed into a tin can, I yearned for a breath of the ambient air outside my saline shakles. But, alas, a minute-or-so had passed since my scalp had broken the waves above; time was running out. Eventually, the primal instinctively to inhale, regardless of whether or not I broke the sea’s meniscus, would trump any sensible logic.
The sea would invade my lungs in one foul swoop. And I wouldn’t be able to stop it.
But, alas, as if divine spirits had said “Girl, you’ve had enough. Let us help you,” the riptide momentarily broke — and I catapulted myself to the surface. Then, having some bout of clairvoyance, I heaved my lobster-red body onto the paddle bordering, knowing well enough that attempting to stand up would only lead to another asphyxiating episode, and doggie paddled my way back to the shoreline, white-knuckling the long paddle I feared I’d lose again.