Row, Row, Row Your Boat
I had a girly getaway in Langkawi with my best friend and sister two weekends ago. Usually, our list of holiday activities would include loads of eating, spa treatments and sightseeing—nothing remotely strenuous. This time round however, my bestie Sya, decided she wanted to go on a kayaking tour around the mangroves. A quick search on TripAdvisor showed a lot of great reviews on Dev’s Adventure Tours so we settled for that.
If you didn’t have a partner, you would have to kayak solo. Since my sister didn’t want to be alone, I was her kayaking partner while Sya was more than happy to take on the challenge of solo kayaking. I’ve to admit, Safia and I were a little nervous about the 2.5 hour route we were about to take. The last time either of us kayaked was a good 6-8 years ago. I still remember my last kayaking experience—it was during a 10-day course in Outward Bound School Lumut, I was 17 and my kayaking partner did most, if not all, of the work. Back then, I was NOT into fitness and my arm muscles have never been challenged. I barely lasted 5 minutes of kayaking before my arms turned to jelly and I was out of breath.
It wasn’t my past kayaking experience that got me nervous. What really made me doubtful was when our guide Jerome, told the group that he had the right to change our kayaking partners if he sees that we aren’t cooperating and are disrupting the course of the trip for everyone. He said that kayaking involves good communication in order for both partners to manoeuvre the kayak in the right direction. He looked at us and asked: “Are you two sisters?” We nodded. “Oh, that’s the worst.”
He was probably joking—or not—but we did begin to question how well we communicated with each other. I know sometimes I get really impatient when Safia doesn’t do something right. What if I lose my temper and we actually get assigned to different partners? The possibility of finding out that we don't have a good relationship made me really anxious. In fact, we both expressed our concerns before we began kayaking because we don't like being apart from each other (read: clingy sisters). So many irrational thoughts ran through our anxious minds!
Before we got into our kayak, Jerome said whoever is lighter goes in front. With a cheeky smirk on her face, my sister plopped herself in the front seat.
“Whoever sits in front is lucky as the person at the back has to do most of the work.”
Safia’s grin stretched even further. I was not amused.
“The person at the back will be giving the instructions… OR the person at front might want to, you guys can decide what works.”
The first 20 minutes of kayaking proved to be a challenge for both of us as we were still figuring out how to paddle properly. How much force did each of us have to put in to move forward? How many left strokes did we need to do to get to the right? How do we turn this thing around??
The open sea was much easier to kayak on because we had so much space. As we began our journey into the mangroves, the channels got narrower and a lot of intricate paddling was needed to avoid getting stuck in between the roots of the mangrove trees. Believe me, we got stuck quite a few times at the beginning and it took some quick thinking to get us out and catch up with the group.
Our journey got easier after the first hour, not because the route itself became less challenging but because my sister and I finally figured out how to get us moving at the perfect pace. From our initial experience of getting stuck in between tree roots, we also learnt how to avoid that situation or get out of it really quickly when it did happen again. Kayaking with her was so much fun; I was impressed by how well we communicated with each other. There were even times we didn’t have to give each other instructions; we would just observe each other's pace and adjusted accordingly.
“You know what Safia, we actually make a really good team.”
I really shouldn’t be surprised but my sister and I DO make a great team. I learnt so much about my relationship with her from kayaking. For starters, we don’t have a stereotypical big sister/little sister dynamic. We take turns leading each other when the other needs a push; there’s no ego when it comes to deciding who’s in charge. There were times I had to listen to Safia’s instructions and there were times she had to listen to mine.
We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There were times I could see she was tired so I told her she could rest while I paddled, but she didn’t stop for too long before she picked herself up again. It might be nothing to others, but I was really proud of the effort she put in to continue the journey even though she could have easily given up.
If my kayaking trip that day was a metaphor for life then this is what I’ve learnt from it:
➤ It makes a massive difference to have people that are in the same boat as you. Pun intended. We all have life goals and places we want to be. The people you choose to keep close to you—your friends and/or partner—can either help you or stop you from achieving your dreams, so choose wisely. When those closest to you are already heading towards the same destination, your journey will be made so much easier. This applies to everything you want to achieve, including the person you want to become.
➤ No company is better than bad company. Bad company is like an anchor that holds you back. In life you’re already going to get so many challenges that will stop you at your tracks, you need to be able to sail through every storm without the unnecessary resistance. At some point, you’re going to have to figure out who’s going to help you row the boat forward or hold you back. Once you do, don't give yourself excuses and let the dead weight go. I learnt this lesson from watching my bestie gracefully kayaking on her own.
➤ Adjust to changes; don't resist them. When you're in a state of panic, our natural reaction is to go against our circumstances when really, we should embrace them and use it to our advantage. It's only possible to float on water when you're calm; when you struggle you end up thrashing about. Similarly, a tree survives the year by adapting to all different seasons; not by going against its surroundings. Trust yourself enough to know that no matter what happens, you can survive it and move on to the next new phase of your life.