Last time I told you about tackling alligators while swimming. Or whatever that unwelcome creature from the black lagoon was. This is the story of it’s bigger, meaner, salt water brother.
We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat
Early in the summer of 2008 I returned home to New York to go to a wedding. I had a little bit of extra time so I stayed with my parents on the south shore of Long Island and took the opportunity to get my kayak team, my friend Kevin and My Dad, out on the Great South Bay for some practice. After all, what could be better than actually swimming in the actual area where the race would be held? There was under 2 month until the race and my kayakers had never kayaked and I hadn’t ever swam in my wetsuit. It was time to get serious.
We woke up early in the morning, grabbed some egg and bagel sandwiches and made our way to the beach. Kevin had rented the kayak the day before so we were all set.
The practice was good, we got a great workout, and we learned about the logistics of how to carry, portage, and manage a kayak. Good information that would prove essential when I actually competed in the 2009 Cross Bay Swim.
You Play How You Practice
Like I said, this was my first time in a wetsuit and in salt water. Both dramatically increase your buoyancy. This led to me bobbing up and down comfortably when I would stop swimming. About halfway through our practice I stopped swimming and stood up on a sandbar to talk with my kayakers. I stood up a little out of the water, feet on the ground, and carried on a conversation.
Then the ground moved.
I remember cold fear welling in my stomach. My feet had just been standing on a sand-paper textured support that was clearly alive. And ridiculously huge. My limbs felt heavy and I was suddenly exhausted. Instinct propelled me to grab on to the kayak. I think part of my brain replayed the ‘visual accuity’ scene of Jeff Goldblum vs the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. ‘If I just don’t move, it won’t be able to see me’ I told myself.
We never figured out what I was standing on. Whatever it was, it was freaking huge! Best guess is that my stance kept my feet about 2.5 feet. My weight was around 200lbs at the time so let’s say that 1/2 of that was negated from buoyancy. What kind of salt water animals do you know that are bigger than 2.5 feet long, feel like sand paper-y, level ground, and can support 100lbs?
I’m surprised I didn’t soil my wetsuit.
This episode reminded me of surfing in Virginia Beach early one morning over Labor Day in 2001. I had taken a surfboard and paddled out to calm surf before anyone else had woken up. Although there were no waves, I was happy to be out in the ocean. That’s when the sea came to a boil. There was a ton of bait fish suddenly jumping up all around me trying to escape some predator that was chasing them below my dangling, and very exposed, toes.
It wasn’t the bait fish that stole my breath away. It was what came next.
A single dark fin breaking the water.
I remember going cold, my limbs feeling like lead, and a vague nauseous feeling over come me. ‘Don’t get eaten,’ I remember thinking.
Careful not to lose my balance and tip myself into the feeding frenzy, I drew my legs up on to the surfboard. Visions of the movie Jaws flashed in my head.
As it turned out, the fins belonged to bottle nosed dolphins. That became clear after just a few seconds, but My God, how long those few seconds felt!
Not the last time
That trip to Virginia Beach wasn’t the first nor was it the last time I’d find myself swimming with dolphins. The Cross bay swim training in New York wasn’t the first nor last time I’d swim with large marine animals. In fact, later that same summer my fiance and I would come fin-to-face with a large shark patrolling the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.
Sometimes you’ll be out living your life and thinking about that scene in Jaws where they learn the true size of the creature they are hunting and for safety’s sake Roy states “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” I am as certain that I’ve swam along side things I had no idea were there as I am that I’ll run into more critters in the future.
While terrifying, you can’t go through life avoiding what scares you. Whether it’s swimming in the ocean, travelling through Palestine, or learning to fly an airplane. Chris Guillebeau over at the excellent Art of Non Conformity has an excellent write up of this concept in his article Beware of Life.There’s no need to retread ground he covers there so I’ll just add my two cents here:
What’s more terrifying? Encountering the ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’ moment or going through life safe but unchallenged?
Tell us below.