Ciara Gavin (age 18), Carrigaline Community School, Co Cork
“We set off on our journey and I want to shriek for joy. The sun is shining, and the water glistens, and the air is clean, and my heart is full up from the sheer golden joy of it.” Photograph: iStock
The sky is blue and free of clouds – ideal for what we have in mind really. We gather on the grass – grass ground to a thick mud over the summer by the feet of a million children, and work together to bring down the kayaks from the racks.
We take out sea kayaks, pointed sit-on-tops. They were brightly coloured once, poster-paint red and yellow, but now they are dented, and dirty, and coated in dust. They’re unstable, too, but still a vast improvement on the bulky, slow monsters we take out for the kids. We don’t call those sessions kayaking: we call them towing, feeling the burn of paddling for four defeated kids in your arms, and your shoulders, and your belly.
Mark slips in the mud, and falls – thwack! We laugh at the sound, and at the stain the mud leaves on the seat of his wetsuit.
Two by two, we bring the kayaks and the paddles down the sodden slipway, dodging clumps of seaweed as we go. We set off on our journey and I want to shriek for joy. The sun is shining, and the water glistens, and the air is clean, and my heart is full up from the sheer golden joy of it: there is not a place in the world I would rather be. The flat sounds of the paddles mingle with the lap of the sea against the kayaks, and I can see that I am not the only one set to burst from happiness. I brace my body and paddle over to Laoise, feeling the heft of the paddle as it turns in my hand. I feel strong. The kayak cuts through the water, creating a breeze I can feel on my face. The sun warms the black neoprene of my wetsuit.
I look at Laoise and beam – after a day on the water, her hair is still dry. I feel mischief rise up in me, and ready myself to scoop up the water with my paddle. Spotting my intentions, she begs, pleads with me not to wet her. I am determined, merciless – but as I try to raise my paddle to splash her, the force of the water tips my kayak, and before I quite know I’m out, I’m out. My buoyancy aid lets me float, and I relax for a moment. The water is cold, refreshing, a balm to the suffocating heat of the dry wetsuit.
I surface, wipe my fringe out of my eyes, blink out the saltwater – I’m used to the sting. Laoise has stopped cowering, and begins to cackle, a victorious, delightful sound. I laugh too, and we work together to right my kayak, and to reinstall me in it. It’s a struggle – the boat is light, and with every shift in balance I can feel it trying to throw me back into the water.
One last hop – and I’m in. We continue on our way, a cluster of kayaks on the shining sea. We stop off at a pontoon and connect our kayaks to it. The rope is rough – it friction-warms our palms as we pass it through the handles, and tie it off on the anchor point, a gleaming iron ring. Someone has a waterproof speaker attached to a buoyant yellow dry bag, and so our break has a soundtrack.
The fresh sea air and the sound of the music have us light-headed and we push and shove each other into the water from the wooden float. Once, I sneak up on Theo – I place my hands on his back, brace myself to push, but he is faster than me. He whips around, has just enough time to latch onto my buoyancy aid before he loses balance and we’re both in the water. One minute I hear yelling, splashing! And then, silence. I windmill my arms, pushing back to give Theo space. We resurface, spluttering, water streaming from our eyes and hair and noses. He smiles at me, delighted to have dragged me in. I roll my eyes at him, and we swim, ploughing our way through the water to the wooden ladder back up to the wooden platform.
Another time, we pick Emer up, a limb each, and we swing her. My whole body is focused on balance, holding my ground on the slippery surface – Emer is heavier than she looks. Her good-natured squeaks of indignation are silenced by the water, and she is still dripping as we sit ourselves back into our kayaks, disconnect, and set off again. We make it all the way to Second Creek, where we stop off. We stow our kayaks in a cave above the high-water mark, piled on top of each other, and go to what we came out to see: the rope swing.
The tide is high, the water deep enough to use the swing, and one by one we climb up the rock face, till we are high enough to use the knots near the top as handholds. Cian goes first, grips the uppermost knot, and pushes off his rock perch. He lets go at the perfect time, when he is at his peak, the exact moment before the rope begins to swing back towards us – but he lands flat, and the resulting smack has us all wincing. His face is red when he comes up for air, stinging from the impact.
I take my turn too, trying not to rip my wetsuit on the jagged stone as I make my way up to the handhold. I hold on as tight to the rope as I can and leap off – but the yank on my arms as I suddenly have to support my weight is too much, and I drop mid-swing. I tuck my legs into my chest as I fall, the water deep enough that I don’t touch bottom, and I succeed in soaking everyone standing by. They splash me back, and I try not to swallow too much seawater laughing.
We spend our journey back to the water sports centre counting the jellyfish, their bulbous whitish-purple bodies pulsing and glowing as they float in the tide. A warm current is coming in, and they’re everywhere, tens passing us at a time. Neil says he spots one with a radius of 30, 40 centimetres, and we wouldn’t believe him, except he manages to pick it up with his paddle.
The jellyfish is massive, and floppy, its transparent jelly flesh overhanging both sides of the blade. It is heavy, too, and he cannot hold it for long: it slips off the paddle and into the water with an almighty slop.
We reach shore, the sun still glowing, and bring the kayaks up the slipway, two at a time. Our arms are tired, but good tired, and when all the boats are put away we collect our bags to wait for our parents. Laoise and I sit on ours, fatigued but content, and we talk. We were out for hours, but the sun is still shining and we enjoy the sight of the light glancing off the dense foliage surrounding the centre. An oystercatcher swoops down from a telephone pole and flies away, its red beak marking it against the blue sky. I comment on it, how beautiful the scenery is, and Laoise smiles at me. “Do you not have birds in Carrigaline?”
It has been a long day, and we are so tired, and I try to protest but I can’t – I can’t help but laugh. We laugh, and we laugh, deep from our bellies, tears in our eyes. She falls off her bag onto the ground with a dull thud, and we only laugh harder. When my mum arrives to bring us home, she finds us on the ground, the grass rising up around us. My hair is curling from the water, and I can feel the salt that has dried on my face. Our day’s journey is over: my whole body feels new, and I know I will sleep well tonight.