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.
We stay dry by working together. But that's not easy. Our triceps burn and our backs ache—after just 20 minutes. We paddle for six hours before lunch. By fighting the current and staying with our guide, we're rewarded with exploring secluded sea caves and watching curious sea turtles.
If you're not fighting against life's everyday currents, your marriage can quickly get off course, causing you to miss out on some beautiful experiences.
Popular author and marriage counselor John Trent says marriage should be treated like driving a car. As you steer down the road, you continuously make little corrections to ensure you end up where you want to go. Those little adjustments make a huge difference in the marriage relationship, too.
Keeping your marriage on track takes effort. Work together, stay on course, and keep moving forward, because floating along can leave you wet.
Expect Big Waves
It's impossible to paddle 16 miles in the ocean without encountering some big waves. The Na Pali Coast can be kayaked only from mid-May until September. During the rest of the year, the Pacific is too dangerous.
To ride the big waves, any experienced surfer will tell you that you have to do one thing: relax. You can fight against the ocean, but you'll just get tired and frustrated.
In marriage, big waves can come in the form of a financial crisis, a rebellious teenager, a health issue, or any number of other difficulties. At those times, you have to remember that you're not in control. But you serve a big God who is.
Give your worries to him. Pour out your problems and ask for heavenly guidance. Instead of panicking and tipping over in the waves, stay focused on God, hold on to each other, relax, and let him guide you through.
Enjoy the Journey
After finding a rhythm together on the kayak, we're treated to some of the most breath-taking scenery on the planet. Turquoise waters, secluded beaches, towering cliffs. Images and memories that will last a lifetime.
Sometimes in life we get so focused on "paddling" that we don't look around and appreciate the beauty in our lives. Sure, we have responsibilities, but we can get so caught up in them that we miss out on a simple kiss, a gentle touch, or the look in our spouse's eye.
As they say in Hawaii, stop and smell the seawater (actually, they don't say that). But they do say Ka ù Ia E Lei A è Nei La, which means, "I pledge my love to you alone."
Make sure your spouse knows that truth, even when you're tired from a hectic day or a lengthy kayak trip.
"Ocean kayaking is the number-one cause for divorce on the island," Adam says as we gather at the end our journey. "If you can make it through this, you can make it through anything."
We did make it. Together.
Sounds like Hawaiians have always known kayaking the Na Pali is like marriage—hard, tiring, exhilarating, and totally worth it!
Jesse Florea is a children's magazine editor and freelance writer in Colorado Springs. He and his wife, Stephanie, enjoy hanging out with their two grown children and writing about their adventures together.
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