You may be asking yourself the question, “What is AMK?
Well, right now it is a person – me.
In 2010 graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s degree in environmental engineering, the country was still reeling from the Great Recession, and I had one all-encompassing mission. Find a job, any job.
As a foreigner from Brazil in the United States, my situation will be familiar to every international student. You can live in the United States during your studies, but once you graduate, there are two options; you either go back home, or you make use of your Optional Practical Training, which can last up to twenty-seven months.
The only catch is you only have three months to find a job from the day you graduate, or you have to go. With a paucity of companies hiring anyone at all, even engineers, things at the time did not look encouraging.
I did, however, have one promising lead.
During my undergraduate studies, I had interned with a local company in Miami as the field operator for a pilot water treatment plant. I had kept in touch with my supervisor with whom I had a good relationship. I called him up.
“Hey Felipe! You know things are tough, not many projects, we are all light on work. But for you, we’ll find something for you to do. Come on down and we’ll hire you.”
A week after grabbing my diploma I had sold all the furniture from my one-bedroom apartment on Craigslist, fitted a few boxes of clothing, books and small possessions into the back of my car, and drove the three hundred and thirty miles to South Florida. My destination, a friend’s living-room couch in Coral Gables.
“You can stay with us for a little while until you get settled.” He said. “You know, we do have a friend of a friend, who is looking for a tenant.”
And so it was that the initial pieces of the puzzle of life fell into place. I started my job, had a roof over my head, and a group of friends. Eventually an opportunity came along. The financial crisis had tumbled prices in the Miami real estate market, and homes were, for once in a lifetime, affordable.
There was a property for sale in Key Biscayne, a little community in a small barrier island connected to Miami via a causeway where I often rode my bicycle on the weekends. The property was an adobe style townhouse with bright white walls at the end of a tree lined street and a narrow footpath to the beach. I put down an offer below the asking price, I was the sole bidder, and I got the house.
A year passed and a thought came into my head while I watched two paddlers on the beach. “I live right next to the beach. Maybe I should look into getting a kayak.”
I searched for used kayaks on Craigslist and found a blue sit-on-top 9.5-foot Perception in Hialeah. “That should do it.” I thought.
I drove to the address, put the boat in the trunk and tied the lid with a string. The next day I went on my first outing. I set off from my house and paddled ten miles around Key Biscayne. It took me six hours, and I was exhausted. How could this little boat be so bulky. The answer soon became obvious. It was missing the rear plug and had filled up with water.
Years passed, and I lost count of how many times I’ve paddled the little blue kayak around Key Biscayne. I developed a fondness for kayaking. In the hours I am in the boat out on the water the stress of daily life takes a back seat to the present moment. Nothing can get done before you’re done paddling, and your mind is free to wander.
In one of my paddles a thought came to me; “Where else can I paddle?” That afternoon I searched on google for “Great Kayak Journeys”. My conclusion: “I’m going to need a bigger kayak.”
I purchased a sixteen-foot skin on frame kayak which fitted in a bag stored in my living room beneath the TV. I made my first two expeditions with it. A three-day trip from Miami to Key Largo over Thanksgiving, and a seven-day journey a month later around Florida Bay between Christmas and New Years. Those were learning experiences. I vividly remember that I wished I had a pair of gloves. My hands got huge calluses, and ever since I’ve never paddled without gloves.
During that Florida Bay trip, I ran across a kayaker on his way to Key West. He owned a green Wilderness Systems Tempest 170, and he did a thing I had never seen anyone do with a kayak. He rolled it.
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“With a lot of practice.” He said. “It’s an essential skill if you ever want to paddle in the ocean.”
He was right. I had not given much thought to rough ocean conditions. In South Florida the water is almost never more than twenty feet deep and the waves are hardly more than ripples. But if I was to ever go on a real expedition, I would need to learn this skill. “Where can I learn?”
“I work in a paddle shop in Key Largo. We teach rolling classes. Call me up and I’ll do some classes with you.”