Thalassophobia is known as an intense and persistent fear of the sea. The aforementioned concept is often lumped in with the fear of clowns, ducks, and toasters as being an ‘irrational’ fear. Perhaps it is, depending on its manifestation. If you lay away awake at night in Kansas City terrified that the wrath of Poseidon will swallow you and your family whole as you tuck your litter of unhealthy children in at night, yes, that would be irrational. Perhaps being actively afraid of the sea is itself irrational in a way. However, there is such a thing as a healthy fear. A respectful fear. A sensible fear. After all, it are these impulses that keep us alive. It’s why you (should) check both ways before you cross the street, look at the expiration date on cartons of milk, and avoid dating men who rarely blink.
To have a sensible, reasonable fear of the sea is hardly a phobia. You, as a human being, bereft of webbing, fins, gills, natural defenses given the environment, or any other quality that would protect you or even make use of you in the sea are at perhaps your most vulnerable in the waters of our oceans. You are a speck on a speck. Infinitesimal, and to many creatures that traverse its seemingly endless scope, an hor’s doeuvres that would put up a comparatively lackadaisical fight on even your best day.
And yet, we go out anyway.
We are unlike any other species on earth: actively and willfully putting ourselves in danger and at the mercy of the elements for excitement, pleasure, or to show our high school enemies that we’ve lost the weight that they have ideally found.
So, ignoring all of the unbelievable amount of knowledge that should convince me to stay out of the ocean, I accepted my friends invitation one morning on the shores of Maui to go kayaking, and ideally, observe some whales.
“They could easily crush you,” I remembered.
Yes, but as Lord Byron so perceptively stated, “The tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.”
A few friends, my sister, and I had been basking in each other’s company and slowly conducting our research as to what the bottom of a bottle of rye whiskey looks like the night beforehand when the idea came to my friend for kayaking at dawn. Dawn, an uncivilized time of day to wake up, was not a prospect that seemed in any way fortuitous, but he told me that the waters in the early hours of the morning were mellow and flat; moving on an easy, malleable surface, and with hardly a sound to be heard around you of tourists and commercial whale charters.
The island of Maui enjoy the world’s largest concentration of Humpback whales during the winter months (which is still anyone else’s summer). The soon to be new families of whales gather along these safe, warm shores to give birth to their calves or to mate before swimming back across the Pacific Ocean for the algae bloom along the upper rims of the Pacific Northwest.
During these winter months around Maui, one can see literal scores of whales breaching out of the water at any time of day, or night depending on the phase of the moon.
As is my nature, and yours, I accepted this offer to go kayaking. Much more bemoaning of the early rising time than the very real threat of the power of the ocean and its inhabitants.
After my second cup of sweet, nutty, Kona coffee, my sister and I awkwardly shambled our way into the two-person kayak on the sands of Olowalu and disembarked into the sea.
My friend was correct. The waters were so calm, so peaceful, so serene, that for a brief time the only sounds that could be heard were the songs of sea birds and my sister’s enraging penchant for vocalizing her chewing gum.
We rowed at least a mile out into the water effortlessly before taking a break.
“We have snorkels!” My friend suggested.
So overcome by the beauty as I was, I grabbed a snorkel without hesitation and dove into the ocean. Again, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.
I’ll spare you the descriptions. I’m sure you have a friend or two who has gone scuba diving once or a thousand times and would be ravenously thrilled to give you a nonconsensual account of their bevy of experiences.
When I returned to the kayak, I reached into our aqua pack and pulled out a beer. What better way to celebrate an early morning workout?
Then, she exploded out of the water.
The sound that a fully grown, pregnant Humpback whale makes when it bursts out of the water and crashes back down into the depths is what I can only imagine cannonball fire directly next to one’s poor teenage ears was like during the Civil War. It is the single loudest percussive blast that I have ever heard, and Higher Power willing, ever shall hear.
They look large on camera, don’t they? Well imagine one of these multi-ton behemoths, this nautical colossus that could obliterate you with one brush of their tail, a mere thirty meters away from you.
Yet, they don’t harm you. Actively, anyway.
They simply dance, swim, and sing.
In the presence of a whale, you are in the presence of a God. Hundreds of years old, infinitely strong, impossibly large, and yet, peaceful. Communicating by song. In that moment, you become polytheistic. You don’t have a choice. You have proof.
My sister and I produced a sound from our bodies that is unrepeatable, and phonetically impossible. The best way that I can describe it: imagine the sound that would be created by the lead singer of your favorite metal band hitting their most resonant, rumbling note while simultaneously being punched in the stomach, but it’s clear that they’ve wanted that their entire lives, but didn’t know until that moment.
After that, a few others in the pod ambled lazily along afterwards and returned back into the perceived unknown.
So, excited, and somehow exhausted, we returned back to shore shortly afterwards and got loco mocos from a food truck.
What do you do when you’ve swam with sea turtles, sunbathed off the shores of an ancient island, and been greeted by a God all before 10am? You go back to sleep. There is no building upon that.
There will be many more reviews on this platform, but know this going forward, even the best possible review will always come second to whales.