Dark waves swell and roll all around us. Our two-person kayak bobs haplessly in the mighty Pacific Ocean. To our right nearly 4,000 miles separate us from Japan. To our left 3,000-foot cliffs jut from the water.
But we're smiling. We can't help it. Seventeen years prior to this day we excitedly jumped into a marriage adventure—and it's been exactly that. Unemployment. Check. Moving 1,000 miles from family to start a new life. Yup. Living in a one-bedroom apartment with no furniture. Uh huh. (Well, we did have that fitness step to sit on.) Two kids in diapers under 2 years old. Been there.
Nothing, however, prepared us for the challenge of paddling 16 miles in the rugged ocean. Couples flock to Hawaii's Garden Isle seeking romance and adventure. We hope for both when we sign up to kayak along Kauai's Na Pali Coast on our anniversary.
Our guide, Adam, proudly points out that kayaking the Na Pali Coast is the second-ranked adventure in America by National Geographic Adventurer magazine. (That puts it just ahead of dog-sledding in Alaska and just behind whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon.) What he doesn't say is that this 12-hour journey can be hazardous to relationships … until it's too late.
"A lot of folks call the tandem kayaks you're sitting in 'divorce boats,' " Adam says as we bob in a group offshore. "They're the ultimate test of a relationship."
Adam's words prove prophetic.
Before our starting point at Haena Beach is out of sight, one newlywed couple has capsized their boat several times and the new bride is spouting her luau fare all over the surface of the water. She goes back to land; the husband stays with the trip.
We glance knowingly at each other and smile. Newbie! He should've stayed with her.
They aren't the only casualty. When we paddle onto the shore at Polihale Beach, three of the six couples aren't together anymore in the same boat. We drag our kayaks onto the sand, feeling beaten and fried—sort of like the fish we ate the night before. But we also feel stronger, more connected, and a little wiser.
Riding the waves of the Na Pali turned out to be a lot like riding the waves of life … it's better together. And these tips can help:
Don't Just Float Your Boat
Being barraged by five- to seven-foot waves, the only way not to capsize is to constantly paddle. Floating is not an option. One couple flips so often that Adam separates them by bringing the wife on his boat and putting another guide with the husband.