(A true story from when I lived in Byron Bay, Australia)
He had surfed these shores for so long the lines on his face reflected the rows of waves breaking on the beach. Something about the bleach of his hair made us trust he’d lead us to the best spots to catch the Australian waves.
Over foamy cappuccinos my husband and I sat across from the ex-pro surfer and made our plan.
“Which beach are we hitting up today?” I asked.
“Well it’s a Nor-Easterly so Wategos will be a mess. Definitely Tallows today.”
In the three weeks we’d been in Byron Bay, Australia, we still hadn’t surfed all of its shores. We had however heard about the rough waves at Tallows beach and my heart fluttered thinking about the day ahead.
“Wasn’t there a shark attack at Tallows a few years back?” My husband asked, an edge of excitement in his voice.
“Don’t worry about sharks mate. You never see the one that gets ya!” He winked at me and swigged the last of his latte.
I laughed nervously as we gathered our towels and headed out to his Subaru, topped with our surfboards. As we drove towards the lighthouse, the guys chatted about wave patterns and the wind. I tried to relax and enjoy the view, but something twisted in my stomach and a I felt my cappuccino coming up my throat.
In the parking lot we pulled on our wet suits, grabbed our boards and started down the sandy path to the beach. “Watch out for snakes”, he said over his shoulder, a teasing twinkle in his eye.
“Great, snakes and sharks”, I muttered under my breath, trying to keep up through the hot sand.
As we paddled out my arms burned from the constant pull of wave after wave, each one bringing us closer to the break. After diving under the final curl, I wiped salty water out of my eyes and took in the breathtaking view.
“How you going, Heatha?” Our guide came up beside me and gave a friendly splash. “You look a little knackered”.
“Feeling great, actually,” I splashed back and looked out to the horizon for the next set of waves.
“Here it comes,” my husband turned his board towards the shore and started paddling.
Our guide caught the next one, leaving me alone on the other side of the break. I watched them finish their rides and start paddling back out. As I turned to scan for the next wave, my eyes landed on a dark spot about 10 meters away. I squinted against the sun and my heart stopped. The “spot” was moving towards me and it wasn’t a “spot” at all – it was a fin! I turned and started paddling quickly, my legs and arms flailing . I looked back and saw there were more than one fins and they were gaining on me!
“I don’t want to die,” I thought, as I thrashed towards the shore.
My husband and our friend were paddling towards me and I called out to them, “Turn back!” It’s a shark!”
I took one last look over my shoulder, thinking it would be my last and then it struck.
No, not the shark. The realization that what I was madly swimming from was not a pack of hungry sharks, but a pair of dolphins. They we close now and as I stopped to catch my breath, they swam directly under my board.
“You sure were in a frenzy there H, “ our guide’s eyes twinkled mischievously.
“Ha ha, very funny. I really thought they were sharks!” I said, still breathless.
“What did I tell ya? You’ll never see the one that gets ya!”