The first time that I had taken my daughter out on the sea, she was four months old. I had set her feet on a stand-up paddleboard floating just off the shore of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Harper, as a rational person would expect of a baby, had a fit. It took a few more months for her to grow comfortable with the ocean. And while it’s rare that she will crawl straight into every body of water–see Aruba–she does enjoy building and destroying sand castles and watching sand crabs scurry for the depths.
In Hawaii, however, I tried once again to get her onto a small watercraft without fear. We packed in with a few dozen tourists and took a boat from the shores of Kuloa Ranch to their private island across the way. And after a quick walk through the forest came out on the other side where paddleboards and kayaks awaited. All of the tourists–the label will be understood in a moment–ran right for the kayaks. It was chaos on the bay; all the crafts were being used incorrectly. Kids were trying to paddle the stand-up boards while hanging ten off the nose, which, as sense would guide you, is by far an inferior strategy to standing toward the middle. Adults were seated in the kayaks facing one another, canceling out each other’s efforts with each stroke.
Paddling with a Toddler
When a kayak became available, I popped a little life jacket over Harper’s head, seated my pregnant wife at the front of the boat, and set myself down in the back with my daughter in my lap. At first, she clutched on tightly, nervous about how quickly the ground could transition to liquid, but after a few strokes in the bay and sensing no fear in her mother–who often serves as a good canary-in-the-coal-mine for the dangers of water-related activities–Harper seemed to enjoy herself. All sorts of rules on the private island kept us bored though, and we were forced to navigate in a small rectangle delineated by buoys.
The next week, we landed on Maui and spent a few days doing nothing at the Grand Wailea. Harper grew brazen, attacking the kiddy pool and lazy river with gusto, fearing only the waterfalls along the rocks. On our second evening in Maui, we sat on the beach for the sunset, while our daughter charged the surf, giggling and retreating and having eternal fun in the short-lived dusk.
We moved hotels the next day, up to the Kaanapali Ocean Resort and Villas and the following morning woke early to ride on an outrigger canoe. Marissa was nervous; the canary started to chirp its final breaths. After all, Mark Twain had also been curious about the craft, noting that it was “so narrow that if you wedged a fat man into it you might not get him out again.”
Despite her hesitations, we made our way to where the outrigger company had set up on the resort and followed our two guides to the water’s edge. They had reassured my wife that there was nothing to worry about riding with a baby in an outrigger canoe.
(On a separate note, they had worried us slightly on the pregnancy front, preaching Hawaiian old wives’ tales and why Marissa should not accept any unclipped leis, nor should she visit any sacred sites, on account of her pregnancy. The Hawaiians in charge also suggested that I badger my wife, for an angry wife meant that the baby would look more like the father. But with such a pretty wife, who would want that.)
We loaded into the canoe and paddled toward the cliffs in the quiet morning waters off of Kaanapali. At first, I could not tell if Harper was miserably frightened or if the lifejacket was just riding up into her chin, forcing her to adopt an expression of discomfort. But then all of that changed when a sea turtle popped up off our starboard side. “Ooh,” she exclaimed. We paddled briskly for the creature. The turtle dove down and Harper scanned the waters with interest. Then the turtle, which the guides estimated to be an octogenarian, returned, surfacing in between the canoe and the outrigger, glancing up at us with all of his wisdom. And Harper gazed down with the inchoate eyes of a toddler on her first outrigger expedition.