I went back to work at Coastal Kayak for the second time in 2015. That year, I had decided that I wasn’t ever going to grow up. When you work at Coastal Kayak, you don’t have to.
The first time I worked there, I was 15 years old. The company was young, the owners were young, and I, at my ripe age of 15, had it made. I could sit by the bay and stare out over the water for hours at a time. I was one of two employees, so on busy days I did it all- I got customers to fill out paperwork, and helped them get started out on kayaks, sailboats, and windsurfers. On slow days, I read my book and on rainy days, I went home. During my shifts, I drug around boats that weighed almost as much as I did, stacking them, cabling them, locking them, unlocking them, relocking them- but I didn’t mind. I was in high school. Most of my friends were back home spending their summers hanging out by the pool; meanwhile I got to spend mine at the beach, making money. Coastal Kayak owner Mitch recalls that I “drove around all summer with a surfboard permanently affixed to the top of my Jeep.” I myself actually remember doing some surfing during those two summers but either way, life was good. I was never going to grow up.
I eventually did in fact, grow up. I find kids these days don’t have much of a choice in the matter. I went to off to college; I spent some summers in Dewey Beach where the party scene was far heavier than that in sleepy Fenwick Island; I moved to Southern California where I was a teacher and eventually to Guatemala where I became a school principal. I blinked and I had become a real, live adult. I had gone from school to school to school and while I had had some adventure in the process, my inner child was yelling for me to come back out to play. I quit my job in 2014 and decided to travel, eventually ending up back in Fenwick, my childhood home, for a summer. I was offering seaside yoga classes and bartending at the same time, two jobs that really just didn’t compliment each other very well. When owner Jenifer reached out and asked if I wanted my old job back, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Being outdoors on the water just made so much more sense to me than being stuck behind a bar.
Fourteen years had gone by, and not much had changed at Coastal Kayak. The owners hadn’t aged a day and they still had their sunny and hilarious outlook on life and on business. The company had grown of course; instead of 2 employees there were now more than a dozen, and they had upgraded the “office” from a shed to a renovated garage. The inventory had expanded, half the beach had disappeared, and now instead of renting windsurfers, they rented paddleboards. Other than that though, the essence of the place still remained.
I came back this summer for the third year in a row. At the annual Coastal Kayak employee sailing regatta, I looked around and saw kids whose ages spread from 19-70, with every decade represented in between. We spent the evening sailing, dancing, launching water balloons, dunking each other in the bay, and just enjoying life together in a way that doesn’t happen in many places. It isn’t just at the staff parties that this happens, either. On our days spent working we give kayak tours in the sunshine and the moonlight; we show people how to paddleboard, kayak, and sail; and we still drag around boats that are almost as heavy as we are. On rainy days we stay and work now, because they’re that busy that we have to. We work hard but nobody ever really complains about it because we know how good we have it. We do trainings together, have regular (often ridiculous) competitions, and bring each other food created from our homes and veggies from our gardens. In the office we play pranks on each other regularly. On our days off we take surf trips together to Assateague. On Sunday nights we do yoga together. It really is a family of kids who refuse to grow up, and Coastal Kayak is our Neverland.
I think that makes Mitch and Jen our Peter Pan and Tinkerbell? I won’t say who’s who.
This summer of 2017 was my third and probably, final summer back, as once again life is happening and taking me elsewhere. My three-year protest against growing up is coming to an end and this time, I’m okay with it. I’ve learned that staying young is about your mental approach to living- with the right amount of laughter and sunshine, you can take your youth with you throughout the rest of your life. I’m thankful to Coastal Kayak and to the people that work there for that lesson. When adulting days get tough wherever I am, my memories will bring me back to that sandy Neverland shack on Little Assawoman Bay.