The crashing of the sea drowned out my beating heart as I stepped into the waves with my surfboard. I would share this massive body of water with all kinds of sea creatures including sharks. The last time I surfed, the rhythmic waves in Costa Rica made standing up on a board as simple as standing on a picnic table. That board’s width and length helped too. This time would be different. The foam board would be gentle on my knee if I smacked it, but its narrow width and my still wimpy left leg would make balance squirrelly. I was stoked for the challenge.
I have never been at ease when black water swirled around my body. I’ve spent a lot of time in lakes and had been nibbled several times. But a lifeguard stood on the Santa Monica beach while helicopters watched from their perch in the sky. I had no fear of sharks.
What happened here?
Fear is a funny thing. Our imaginations can wreak havoc with confidence. Knowing the stats keeps me from being afraid.
Shark attacks in the US:
16 attacks per year in the US.
1 fatality every two years.
Car accidents in the US:
1.3 million hurt or maimed.
Car accidents globally:
20-50 million people are hurt or maimed in car crashes.
1.3 million fatalities. MILLION.
Plane crashes worldwide:
The odds of dying in a plane crash – 1 in 29.4 million.
The woman who helped me with my rental wetsuit mentioned her fear of big waves. As a water skier, I’ve been tossed like a skipping stone and body slammed into the wake. I’ve tumbled under deep water after wiping out while slalom skiing. I had never panicked while swimming toward the sun.
My son rented a wetsuit too. The last time he surfed, he fell off his board and the fin sliced through the thick material. He bought a repair kit.
Being pretty much a novice surfer, I did have one fear. Other surfers. Once we arrived at the beach, I headed for an open spot and practiced riding the surf to shore. It was a blast.
After surfing for a couple of hours, I was ready to quit. My tired arms had held my board countless times against the torrential current. As the ocean surged again, I readied myself for the onslaught. I planned to ride the wave to shore.
The huge swell caught me early, but I stayed upright. Instead of looking back, I knew the next would slam into me in seconds. I waited.
That’s when I felt it.
The impact of a surfer’s board bashed into me from behind. It knocked me into the agitated breaker. Being in water slows motion, so I covered my head. The fin sliced the bottom of my foot. As I finally found my way to the surface and stepped down, I was sure it had cut through the skin. It felt gaping. The surfer apologized and wanted to know if I was hurt. I didn’t want to look. Luckily, only a long welt formed. No cut just banged up in a few places.
Where does most fear of sharks come from? The most famous of shark movies: Jaws.
“It’s safe to go back in the water, We’re going to need a bigger boat,” and “That’s some hat Harry,” are my favorite lines. I remember seeing the film in a movie theater and bruising my knee on the seat ahead of me when that gargantuan great white appeared for the first time. My first shark attack was virtual.
A couple of summers ago, I watched Jaws poolside. Coolest experience ever. As the tension grew taught, fewer swimmers remained in the pool. All it took was two notes.
I didn’t see any sharks, but I did get hurt. Will I go back? Of course!
Fear is often irrational. You could be that one in a million. Someone is. I would rather focus my attention on being lucky enough to get traditionally published or win a contest. Remember, where attention goes, energy flows. Yep. I won’t think about other surfers next time.
What is your worst fear? Would you face it if you had the chance?