People who leave a mark stay with you.

*********

Jason’s been on me for a year to try a new board. But I love my big purple BARK. It has seen me through so many adventures. It’s kind of my security blanket. I’d also been nervous about finding something else I liked and could afford, but mainly something I liked. I’m big. I can’t paddle something skinny with a low volume.

Saturday John, Dan the Brandit, and I met at Carolina PaddleBoard Co. for a paddle. It was sunny and warm and glassy. I hollered into Jason to tell him I’d see him later.

“Wanna try something else?”

“Like what?”

“How about a 14′ BARK Phantom.”

“Oh, HELL YES.”

He carried it down to the dock and put me on it. Before I was even out of the marina I was yelling over my shoulder “F&*K YOU JASON BECAUSE NOW I WANT THIS.”

“I told you so. . .” were the last words I heard as we headed north.

*********

Lee’s Cut:

“John I need this board. How can I get this board? I’ll trade somebody something anything they want anything for this board.”

“Any deal you can make, Katie. We’ll get it for you.”

********

John taught me to paddle. I don’t know how many of you know that, but he’s the one who put me on my first board, a Starboard Whopper, buckled a PFD and a water thingy around my waist, and fed my addiction until it reached the point where I was looking at him, with wild need, begging him to help me figure out how to buy a $4,500 full carbon indestructible fast as F*^K race board. Sure, the View from the Back needs something fast, so View from the Back can come in third to last this year instead of a personal best of second to last like last year.

John got me to races and loaned me a board and included me in whatever he was doing. He pushed me out past the waves last year in the Carolina Cup even when he probably shouldn’t have, while Anthony pushed Lexy and I could hear the whole beach cheer when we finally turned south.

And John became my brother and his wife Amy became my sister and their little one, Stella, became my niece who lived here. And the other people who paddle here in Wrightsville Beach became my cousins and uncles and aunts and they are all my family.

“Let me know if you ever need bone marrow, John.”

“And if you need a kidney, it’s yours.”

*******

I walked, well, burst, through the paddle shop doors.

“JASON I NEED THIS I WANT THIS OH MY GOSH HOW CAN I GET THIS?”

“Did I say ‘I told you so’?”

“Once or twice, yes.”

“You want it, it’s yours.”

“John told me I can trade for it.”

John leaned over the counter. “Well, what I said was, ‘Oh, you won’t let me trade for anything but when it is convenient for you, Katie, trade is ok.'”

“Damn right,” I said.

Jason laughed and said we would work something out.

Jason is always “working something out” with me. I had just finished my indentured servitude in exchange for Colin. Smart man, that guy. Finding a way to hook me and reel me back in.

Oh, who am I kidding? There’s a trophy fish above the door in the shop. I might as well be that fish. I’m already caught, measured, and mounted. With creepy eyes.

********

What happened next was very weird. I had to tell Joe, my long-suffering, non-paddling husband. Here’s how that happened.

I went from laughing hysterically (because I’m always sending Joe pictures of boards that I demo just to freak him out) to sobbing in the middle of the shop.

What is life? What is air?

Just a couple of months ago I had called Joe and asked him to meet me at Mayfair, but didn’t tell him why. (I was at the shop when I did that, too, by the way.) When I got there to meet him he was white as a sheet and shaking.

“What is WRONG with you?”

“Why are we here?”

“So I can get you a watch for Christmas and you can pick it out.”

“Oh, so we’re staying married?”

“Uh, YES.”

“Ok, I gotta go throw up now.”

I have often wondered if Joe just married me because it was easier than getting away from me. I’m the one who told him “We’re getting married or we’re breaking up,” because he was moving even farther away and I was exhausted from driving everywhere and I knew I wanted to marry him. That was ten years ago.

After we picked out his watch and I was driving him back to work (he had been dropped off on the way from a meeting), he said “I think I need to get you something better for Christmas.”

I told him “The best gift you could give me is how you looked when you thought you were losing me.” And I meant it.

Kim said, Saturday afternoon, when I sent her the screenshots of the text messages, “I love it how the Universe keeps sending you signs that you have something good.”

“So do I.”

**********

I have a new friend. Her name is Laura. She’s my editor and collaborator on a writing project, but we chat all day long because she’s one of those people that, when you meet them, you just click, and you know you’ll be friends for a long time. She’s getting to know about my paddling obsession and some of the people in that circle. I texted her on Saturday afternoon.

Siri needs a grammar lesson. 

John is always saying “Paddle people, they’re my people. We are all getting a second chance at life.”

That is true for me, as well. I’m not always known for my sunny disposition. I’m a brooder. I take it all in and I try to make sense of it and sometimes it comes out as smiles and light and sometimes it comes out as a roar and sometimes it comes out as a whimper.

But I’ve never had so many people tell me I look so happy as when I’m on a paddleboard. Or about to get on one.

I picked up my board yesterday, and, like you do when you are holding the keys in front of your new car, I had someone take a picture of me. (Thanks Ann!)

I sent that picture to a few people–my parents, Kim, Laura–and they all said “You look so happy.”

*********

I still feel so incredibly behind at work. Karen told me, a week or so ago, that it is all about perspective. “Change your perspective, Katie, and it will be ok.”

After John called me yesterday to tell me about Bob I decided that as long as everything that was an emergency was done, I was leaving at 4 to get my board and go for a paddle.

Whenever something happens that stops the world for a minute, and there have been things like that all too frequently in the past year, I try to glean something from it. I don’t think there is ever a reason for hurt, or that something terrible is ever meant to be, but those experiences nudge me into some kind of reaction and I’m trying to make those positive ones. Otherwise, I’d get in bed and never come out.

********

I took my board out last night and broke it in, Katie-style. Out past dark and up past your bedtime. 

If you’re going to be my board, you’re going to stay out past dark.

You’re going to paddle up current and into 30 mph headwinds.

You might encounter oysters or run into the beach.

You’ll probably get loaded on a boat at some point.

You will paddle in saltwater and fresh, down rivers and across the ocean, through the marshes.

You’ll see sunrises and sunsets.

You’ll sit on the dock while we have a post-paddle dance party.

Other people will paddle you. Some of those people will be better than me and some will not know what they’re doing.

You’ll be strapped on cars and trucks and trailers and toted around the country where you will poked and petted and admired by my friends.

You will be in a lot of pictures and factor in a lot of stories. You’ll make a lot of friends, because most paddlers, not all, but most, never met a fellow paddler they didn’t like.

You will take me to places I couldn’t see without you and lead me to do things I couldn’t do without you. And you’ll carry me home.

*********

By the time John called me yesterday word had started to spread. On Facebook, paddlers from around the country started putting up pictures and sharing stories about Dr. Bob. My story is that last year, when someone was doing something that was bugging me, Betsy said “I’ll send Dr. Bob down there to beat them up for you.” And Bob said “Hell yes I will!” Keep in mind, I had only met them once.

 

Bob and Betsy are like that.

I stole this from Tracey Engelking:

The tone of a sport is set by its early adopters and by the people who serve as its ambassadors.

That’s a word you see written all over today in people’s thoughts and messages for Betsy and about Bob. They’re both ambassadors, in the true sense of the word, traveling, representing the sport, welcoming new people, greeting people, connecting people.

If someone asks me why they should try paddling, I tell them, first, it’s fun. Next, you’ll make great friends. If you stay with it, it will change your life.

*****

Sometimes you don’t know you’re lost until you’re found.

*****

In every picture of him Bob is smiling. I know he didn’t smile all of the time. Nobody does. But what Bob clearly understood is that life is brief and fleeting and should not be spent entirely in service to work, but in service to joy, as well. For joy is what lights you up from within and joy is what you will be remembered for.

*********

This one’s for Dr. Bob. 

I Lived
One Republic

Hope when you take that jump
You don’t fear the fall
Hope when the water rises
You build a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out
They’re screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay
Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
Is give it all you have
And I hope that you don’t suffer
But take the pain
Hope when the moment comes
You’ll say…
I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second
That this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived
Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup
I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I’ll say…
I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second
That this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

 

A new board, a lost friend, a big family