Swimming with sharks

I am an OK surfer. I’ve been doing it since I was about 10—so I should probably be better than I am—but I manage all right. There are still days when I go out and can’t catch a single wave, but more often than not, I rip.

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Me ripping

PLAYIN! I’ve never ripped anything but my wetsuit. Truly though, I am OK, at least by New England terms.

And that thar’s the qualifier—New England terms. Ya girl surfs strictly Rhode Island and Maine, strictly June through October, although I did rent a surfboard in Florida for a few hours once. I shared waves with a surf instructor that day, and he told me I “did really well for my first time.” That was two years ago—so I’d been surfing for 14 years—if that gives you some indication of my ability.

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Perfect form (I’M GOOFING)

Despite my mediocrity, I like it a lot. Part of the reason I came to New Zealand was to do some surfing, and some surfing I’ve done. And snoop doggy dogg, ain’t it scary.

The first day my cousin Alastair brought me out, we went to a beach called Muriwai on the Tasman Sea. You ever been to the Tasman Sea? It’s the sea on the west coast of NZ, and it is corporate as hell. It probably has an MBA from Wharton. Probably works on Wall Street. Do Wall Street people have MBAs? I don’t know. I’m not that corporate, but the Tasman Sea sure is. THE TASMAN SEA MEANS BUSINESS.

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Might as well be wearing a business suit and loafers

When we first got out, I had a couple of shaky but decent rides. Then, about half an hour in, a wave crashed directly on my face. It wasn’t a huge wave, and I’ve been crashed upon many a-time, but this wave wrecked me. It held me underwater, threw me almost into shore, and put one gallon of water into each of my facial holes. That’s five gallons straight into the dome, seven gallons if you count my eye holes. (Feel free to count my face holes however you want. It’s all exaggeration, don’t matter.)

I’ve had a lot water in my face before, but this was beyond my realm of experience. It burned. It felt as if I’d swallowed a full glass of Polyjuice Potion and had started to transform into a Slytherin.*

After that wave tored me up, I turned into a sugar bowl lady—too timid to really try for any more waves. I eventually gave up entirely and paddled into shore, where I built sandcastles and befriended an outgoing baby while waiting for Alastair to finish up.

The next day, still damaged from my beating at Muriwai but ready to get back into the water, Alastair brought me to a beach on the east coast, Te Arai. He told me the South Pacific Ocean was gentler than the Tasman—more of a not-for-profit type vibe—and he was right. The waves were smaller and less powerful and much better suited to my delicate, New England constitution. Alastair (and all other New Zealanders, I guess) have much stronger constitutions that don’t really fuxx with small waves. I was the only person in the water.

So small, so perfect

Te Arai

I had myself a grand time! I stayed out for an hour, riding baby waves to my heart’s content. The waves were the perfect size and the crystal clear water was the perfect temperature.

“You can see anything in these gleaming glass waters!” I shouted to myself. “Why, I can see the sand ripples on the ocean floor, and I have terrible eyesight! Hurrah for the South Pacific Ocean!”

In between waves, I started making a list of all the things I’d be able to see through the clear water.

“Seashells. Urchins. Crabs. Fish! Ooh, so many fish. Um… stingrays. Sharks. Hey, I wonder if I could get eaten by a shark right now.”

I spend a lot of time in the ocean, and I’ve never been scared of sharks. But before Te Arai, I’d also never been out surfing, all by myself, in warm South Pacific waters.

“What if a shark did come and bite me? What if I died? Then my family would have to tell people I got killed by a shark while surfing in New Zealand, which sounds far more extreme than it is. These are baby waves, for heaven’s sake! I’mma get out of this water now.”

So I got out of the water. I needed a drink of water and more sunscreen anyway, plus I have a rib that juts out goofily and it was aching something awful.

When I got back to where Alastair was lying on the beach, I asked him about sharks.

“Oh yeah, there are sharks here,” he said. “Hammerheads and bronze whalers all the time. You’re fine though. You were near the shore—they don’t come in that close.”

“Cool. And if they did, I could bop them on the nose and they’d leave me alone. I ain’t never scared.”

“No,” said Alastair. “If a shark were going to bite you, it’d swim up beneath you. You wouldn’t see him coming.”

“Ah, right. Think I’ll stay here and read for a while, then.”

After half an hour of reading, Alastair stood up and said he was going to jump in the water. I was burning up (it’s hot there) and had kind of forgotten about sharks, so I decided to join him. I grabbed the board and we headed out.

As soon as we got out there, I caught a wave on my board and Allie caught a wave on his body. (Like me, his nickname is Allie. Who ever heard of two cousins—a boy and a girl—with the same dang name?!) When we paddled back out, we faced each other to congratulate each other on our successful wave riding. We were probably six feet apart, me facing the shore, Alastair facing the ocean.

Suddenly, in the clear ass waters, I noticed a large shadow on my left. At first I thought it could be my shadow, and then I noticed fin-like features and thought it could be an enormous stingray. Alastair thought the same thing and asked, “Is that a stingray?” By this point it had swam, very slowly, right in between us. As he said it, we both made out what it actually was.

I said with authority, but did not scream, “It’s a SHARK!”

And ‘twas. ‘Twas a goddamn shark. It cruised right by, probably two feet away from both of us. Alastair says it was probably a mako shark, four to five feet long. I say five to six. And, seeing how he uses the metric system and doesn’t know feet as well as I do, you ought to believe me.

After it passed between us, I caught the next wave and rode it in boogie-style and had myself a quick heebie-jeebie type shiver. Alastair swam closer into shore and hung out there until he could tell another swimmer about the shark. Once he did, we left.

It was scary and cool, and I look forward to it never happening again.

*For those unfamiliar with Harry Potter, I suggest you read the series then return to this post, in order to understand the reference.

 

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