I’m a cheater. I cheated.
I wasn’t supposed to go back in the water for another week at least, but I had to. I mean, come awwwwn. It was almost 80 degrees at 7 a.m.
I was pretty good and only paddled out. Never got my head wet and didn’t do anything strenuous. Didn’t get any sea water in my mouth or nose. So what’s the harm in that, I ask? It’s more strenuous having the dog pull on his lead during a walk, I say!
But boy, it was an interesting morning out there. It was fairly calm and glassy, which was good (for once!!!) and there was hardly anyone out this morning which is odd for summertime. Oh, but then I saw why. Unfortunately, after I got out past the swells. Ripped up looking dolphin fins that seem pointier than normal aren’t ripped up little dolphin fins that seem pointier than normal. They’re sharks.
Oy vey. I saw at least two and they’re weren’t on their merry way down the coast, either. They were circling the buoys again and again, more than likely looking for seal or other big ocean shark game. So I just turned around and paddled in. Why take a chance? I mean, I know that statistically speaking, the chances of anything happening are slim to none. But it’s like riding a carnival ride or eating at that taco truck off the beaten path…..why tempt fate? So I just put my feet on the board (nobody was going to mistake ME for a seal today) and sort of paddled back with my hands. (And now my stomach muscles hurt like fuck, thank you very much. That’s hard!)
I was more disappointed than scared. Hard to describe really. But maybe the word unnerved was invented for this morning.
As I made myself my morning smoothie, I was thinking about all the times I’ve seen sharks out there. Usually, they are just fairly small ones like today. And a few times I’ve seen babies. Once off Rincon Point in the dead of winter, I was out pretty far with a friend of mine and I’m almost positive there was a great white passing below us. Sharks don’t really scare me that much. I’m not sure why. I was never scared of needles, either. I don’t like spiders or clowns. Clowns in the water would cause me to have a nervous breakdown and drown from fear. Honestly. One might say I have a priority issue, but I can’t say I’ve ever been truly frightened by a shark. I feel sorry for them a little bit. Thousands of them are killed in Japan every month just so people can have shark fin soup. That’s sad to me. I think they are quite misunderstood and very little respect is given to an animal that was around on the planet longer than we can even really fathom. (See what I did there?)
I think what freaks people out about them is that…..well, they aren’t cuddly are they? And they are so intently driven on whatever it is a shark does, which is often characterized as “moving forward” or “stealthily advancing” or being “cold, calculating.” I mean, they have to move or they’ll die. So naturally some of us make a highly metaphoric, if not myopic, view of their nature. I think it’s more a reflection of how we see OUR nature rather than theirs. They’re just doin’ their thing. Being sharks. Lookin’ for food, swimming. Moving.
As for fearing sharks? I remember my husband once asking me when we were first dating, “…yeah, but aren’t you ever AFRAID to be out there in the water? With the sharks!?” At the time, I felt like this was one of the most ridiculous questions anyone had ever asked me! Afraid? Of sharks? Me?? I was about to reply when I had the recollection of a couple of times in my life of being afraid in the water. And it had nothing to do with sharks, not directly anyway.
As these lovely photographs by the great Dave Doubilet can attest, there is often a lot going on just beneath the surface of things, particularly the ocean.
When you’re in the water, you’ve never really just ON the water. There’s really no such thing as the surface. Not so long as you have the potential to go beneath it, whether on purpose or by misfortune. The ocean is a whole thing, a very real, large and wide and impossibly deep thing. And you’re somehow part of it and not part of it at the same time. And there’s absolutely no way you have any control over what that huge entity might do or contain at any given moment. And that has scared me before. And indeed it will scare me if I let myself think too much about it.
I remember being at Rincon once years ago. It was a very lowly lit, gray day and I couldn’t see my feet in the inky blue water. I remember suddenly thinking that anything could be down there and how could I possibly know what was underneath me? All types of sea creatures and plants could be under me. How did I even know the ocean floor was there at all if I couldn’t see it? I experienced a sudden understanding of the vast enormity of the ocean, and indeed how I was part of that enormity and I found it so overwhelming that I had an immediate desire to paddle back to shore, to get out of the water and out of that uncertainty. At that moment, everything seemed so indescribably and terrifyingly giant. I felt small, helpless and dangerously insignificant.
Simply put, I was much more afraid of an idea than something actual, something tangible. Because an idea has no boundaries. You could certainly punch a shark in the eye, but how to take on the enormity of an idea? How to take on the whole ocean?
Like I said. Priorities.