When my old friend Trip asked me to join him in a tandem sea kayak for Paddle in Seattle, a kayak flotilla protest against Shell’s oil explorations in the Arctic, my first impulse was a big Hell no. Spending an afternoon with hundreds of people who care deeply about climate change and are willing to brave the polluted waters of Puget Sound to make a statement may sound like a fine time to most Grist readers, but it combined two things I generally avoid: sea kayaks and activism.
Let me explain before you stop reading and take to the comments section: I grew up whitewater kayaking, and for most whitewater kayakers, flat water just isn’t fun — it’s the boring part of the river you paddle through to get to the good shit. Sea kayaks have always struck me as the sleepy, boring cousins of real boats — something you take up after you get your AARP card. As for activists, despite generally being in agreement about the issues, their willingness to actually take to streets (and waterways) triggers my guilt reflex. I should be out there, I think every time there’s a rally about climate change or police brutality or abortion or gay rights. I should be waving banners and beating drums and taking direct action, but I never actually do it. There’s always something else going on, like my bus pass is lost or my shoes are all the way across the room or Maury is on. Besides, what’s the point? How can a few hundred self-proclaimed “kayaktivists” compete against Shell, a company with $420 billion in revenue and the blessing of the Obama administration?
But with this story happening in my backyard, there was really no excuse to skip it, so I resisted my impulse to say no and agreed to join Trip in Elliott Bay for the big event. Trip, a filmmaker working with Greenpeace, would film from the bow of the boat and I would be in the stern, attempting to pilot a 20-foot-long ruddered behemoth that the whitewater paddler in me thought looked extremely lame. It’ll be fun, my friend told me. I didn’t believe him, but I went anyway. MORE