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Finding the courage to swim with sharks

“Marianne, you should get out of the water. There’s a shark right next to you.”

“Ha ha,” my wife responded. “Very funny.”

“No, I’m serious,” I said, trying to convey a sense of urgency without sounding like I was worried. “It’s right there.”

I watched as the dorsal fin of what looked like a five-foot shark broke the surface. The shark was moving away from my wife and swimming along the shoreline at Hanalei Bay and didn’t seem particularly interested in her, but jeez, it could just turn around, right?

“Really, get out of the water,” I said.

I seemed to be the only one seeing this shark on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. I turned to a couple walking past for some type of verification.

“Excuse me. That’s a shark, isn’t it?”

They looked.

“Yes, it is,” the man said as they stopped and watched it.

For a few more seconds, the shark swam around, its body easily visible from nose to tail, the dorsal fin looking like small version of the one in “Jaws.” Then, it turned and disappeared into the deep.

My wife, by this time back on land, was safe — perhaps barely.

I had spotted a flash of something dark in the water next to her as she floated around on a boogie board not far off shore, so I was monitoring the area around her closely when the shark showed itself.

Another beach walker stopped and said it was probably a blacktipped reef shark.

“Do they bite?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Am I safe to go swimming?” I asked

“Well, I wouldn’t go out there alone,” he said.

I didn’t. For the next 30 minutes, I peered out at the calm bay, watching for a dorsal fin and most of all, waiting for more people to go swimming, or at least float around, so I wasn’t the only item on the menu.

Meantime, in doing a little background work with my smartphone, I learned blacktipped reef sharks like to hang out in shallow waters close to shore in search of food. The only scenario that might see it harm someone was if it decided to take a bite of their leg as they waded around. Sounded liked I was safe to venture out if I could summon some courage — but courage has never been one of my virtues. I easily scare myself. Fear haunts me.

While running in the dark one night near the airport, I saw a shadow suddenly moving toward me. I screeched to a stop, my heart pounding, eyes wide open, what monster is this. About then, I realized the shadow, too, had stopped — because it was mine.

Then, there was the time I saw a giant cockroach near my foot and jumped away with a yell — only to see the cockroach was actually just a strip of black tape on my left feet hanging loose.

And then there was the evening I was sitting in the living room with our dog Ipo when something snapped loudly somewhere behind me. I whirled around, reaching for anything I could use as defense, wondering what it was, when I remembered the mouse trap behind the oven. I peeked around the corner. Yep, one tiny, dead mouse. Whew. And I was still alive.

So I was determined I couldn’t let this little blacktip reef shark frighten me from my swim. Nothing was going to happen. After all, I swim at Kalapaki Bay, and I’m told the mouth of the harbor is a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks (though ever since being told this I swim closer to shore). So I pulled on my goggles and swam a hundred or so yards to the pier. All seemed well. No sign of any killer sharks. On my return, I let myself drift out farther than I intended so I stopped and looked around. There was no one anywhere near me. Where is everyone? I was swimming alone and I remembered what that guy said on the beach: “I wouldn’t go out there alone.”

Fear rose. Panic set in. I fought the urge to swim straight for shore — and lost. In a furious display of splashing and crashing through the clear water, I didn’t stop until I was I ran aground. There, the couple that I had asked about the shark earlier were about to wade in.

They had watched me go out, they said, and figured I had acted as chum of sorts and nothing happened, so they were safe to return to the water.

“You were brave to go out there by yourself,” he said with a chuckle.

Brave?

Well, sure. I did save my wife’s life.

•••

Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at bbuley@thegardenisland.com

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