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Make America Kayak Again

By Johnie Gall

On Saturday, January 21, while two and half million other people across the globe participated in the Women’s March, I was at the beach.

“I am so selfish right now,” I thought as our truck passed the small group of people gathered by the side of the road on the Big Island of Hawai’i, signs in hand, faces steely with determination.

Kayaking In Hawaii

Fast forward a few hours. I’ve got a suit filled with sand and a huge, shit-eating grin on my face. I’m playing a game that involves eating a tortilla without using my hands (which is as attractive as it sounds) my belly filled with chorizo, at a table filled with new friends from far-flung points on a map.

Hawaii Weather

Before dinner, we’d gone around our little pow-wow to take turns sharing what we were grateful for that day. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents and my sisters,” one friend proclaimed. “And I’m feeling kind of weird about not being activist today.”

Hiking In Hawaii

To be honest, so was I. But maybe more so because I’d never thought of myself as an activist before. I don’t think many of us had before this week.

The past month has been a grim and sobering one for many of us. For me, it was a realization that “they” would not always take care of me or my interests. They would not protect the places and institutions I care about. That’s my—our—job.

Kayak Diving

I just turned 29 years old (holy shit, by the way). I’ve heard some rumors that the next decade of my life is reserved for being “comfortable” in who I am and the things I care about, and I’ve spent a good chunk of time thinking about what those things are lately. Sitting around that dinner table, my arms just a little sore from paddling, my sunburn starting to deepen, suddenly what I care about became clearer than that Big Island salt water.

Kayak Flippers

I care about wild places and public lands and ensuring that they stay protected and accessible to everyone. The Great Outdoors is also our greatest unifier, an idea that spans religion, language, race, socio-economic status and ability. Spend enough time out there and you may even turn into a more compassionate, understanding, reflective human. I have, at least.

Dolphin Lasso

Instead of joining the Women’s March, I spent a week having fun.

I hung my dirty feet out the Jeep window, crossed rivers, grunted up mountains, ran into the ocean half naked. I traversed black sand beaches and giant craters, dove with giant manta rays, and towed my kayak around behind me with a tie-down I found in the car so I could snorkel in bathtub-warm seas. I flew a helicopter over fields of macadamia nuts, rainforests, and lava-belching earth so sulfurous it smelled like we were in Hell itself.

Kayak and Chill

This planet is awesome. And not the “this pulled pork sandwich is awesome” breed of awesome, but awesome in the true sense of that word: awe-inspiring.

Which is how I know we aren’t going through Hell—not totally, at least. Exploring this hardened glob of volcano spew made me remember that there’s a lot worth protecting. Sitting around in kayaks with people from California and Puerto Rico, Argentina and Italy—who I’d never had met if it weren’t for our shared love for adventure—made me remember there’s a lot of people ready to help protect it, too.

Fishing In Hawaii

“Fun is the meaning of life,” another friend exclaimed during dinner.

I work in the outdoor industry, a $650-billion- a-year economic behemoth that exists because we like to have fun. There’s suffering and nobility and purpose in outdoor pursuits, sure, but the main reason we get out there is to have fun.

Oru Kayak BioLite

Having a good time—and the places we escape to in the pursuit of that—is as good a motivator as any to care about something. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we can have some fun doing it.

Night Kayaking Hawaii

Which is why I picked up a postcard from the Big Island before hopping on my flight home.

“Dear Senator Toomey…” it begins. And that’s how I’ll begin, I think.

Night Paddling Hawaii