Sharks: Conquering fear with stupidity

So far, my quest for “new experiences” in 2015 has been going swimmingly. Literally, as you’ll soon learn. While my third “experience” was planned, the last two weeks have not been the metronome of life that lulls you into a false sense of security, but instead a reminder of how stumbling through the days can surprise you with both the good and the bad.

Sometimes you don’t know what you just experienced

About four weeks ago, I went for a triple lap swim from Manly beach to Shelly beach, the most common swim in Manly, that every day at 7 AM features a crazy, madcap group called The Bold and Beautiful. I tend to avoid the crowds and go early, also so I can grab an earlier ferry and get my work day started. That morning my teammate and I started at 5:40 AM, and it was still dark, but the moonlight was bright, there were no clouds in the sky, the water was completely transparent, and the waves almost non-existent. Every stroke felt perfect, as we swam around a sailboat to reach Shelly beach.

Three weeks ago, my teammate was late and I hastily concluded he was a no-show, and I hopped in by myself. I swam the first lap in the dark, solo. The moonlight was still bright, the waves were a little bigger, and the water was cloudier.

The feeling of sensory debt combined with physical exertion is a strange recipe, but for me it was like concentrated adrenaline – like the feeling of standing next to a speaker with the sound vibrating through every bone. I was seriously worried I had just stumbled across a potential addiction.

Sheepishly confessing my new nocturnal aqua-philia to some teammates, I was met with one alarming response after another, all pretty much saying the same thing:

You know that most shark attacks happen at dawn and dusk, right?


No. No, I did not know that. I was unaware. I knew that dusky sharks (picture above), about a meter long, are seen commonly around this area, and I had caught a glimpse of one while swimming, but that didn’t really bother me at the time. And, they aren’t really the sharks you worry about.

I quote the same Emily Dickenson’s line all too often, but it seems to apply to much of life: “But Light a newer Wilderness, My Wildnerness has made”. “Light” and knowledge are not always a good thing, and they can illuminate things you did not want to see or know.

Two weeks ago, my wetsuit was packed for a triathlon over the weekend, so Friday morning I walked down at 5:30 AM, sans wetsuit for the first time. The waves were massive, breaking into the beach and on the rocks loudly. The moonlight was absent, and cloud cover made even the lights along Manly beach difficult to see. After a few deep breaths I jumped in, swimming out. My first real breath told me I was in trouble – I couldn’t see the waves coming at me. I could hear them and time my duck dives but coming back up to the surface I couldn’t be entirely sure what direction I was facing. I could still tell generally that the rocks were still on my right because I could hear the waves crashing against them. I swam on. The distraction of the waves kept me focused, and I made it through the swells and could just see the blurry lights of Shelly in the distance, about 700 meters away.

That’s when I freaked out.

Without a wetsuit, I felt a lot more vulnerable. I was having a hard time sighting in the swells, and could not make out any of the shore in the pitch black. The twenty repeated conversations of the last week filled my head:

  • Sharks feed when it’s dark. Dark? Check.
  • Sharks feed when the water is cloudy. Cloudy water? Check.
  • Sharks like tender meat raised in cold climates with foreign accents. Check.

About five minutes into the swim, when I should be half-way to Shelly, I realized I couldn’t tell if I was making progress or not. I knew that I was, but I had no visible proof. My mind kept repeating the same mantra: Shark. Shark. Shark. Shark. I mentally psyched-out myself and turned around. I was not terribly happy for the rest of the day.

Last Friday

I was not going to be beaten by my own brain. I told enough people what had happened the week before and told them I was going to go back and swim in the dark. So now I couldn’t back out.

5:40, I entered the water, once again with a few strange looks from people up early enough to look at a lone figure walking into the water in the dark. There was a little more light from the week before, and the waves were a little smaller.

I battled constantly with my own brain – “Think about what’s on your calendar today.” Sharks. “Think about what you’ll eat for lunch.” Sharks. “Think about sharks.” Ack! At one point the minimal light piercing the water revealed the dark and light shapes of rocks and sand on the bottom. At one point, probably from the turbulence of my stroke, my mind caught something moving out of the corner of my eye, and I curled into a ball as if getting ready for impact. Ridiculous. I started laughing to myself, and from then on, the swim was fine.


Note the GPS is not accurate when swimming and I swim a lot straighter than those lines, and I don’t swim onto rocks.

Mission accomplished. But I have no desire to keep doing this. I am cured of any momentary addiction that might have been. I can see doing this once a year as a ritual, but that’s about it. But it’s definitely going down as a new experience for The Coaster.

Knocking a baby over while running

While I didn’t have this on my bucket list, or even on my list of goals for 2015, it certainly was a new experience. Saturday, I went running with Natalie, my friend’s eight year old daughter (yeah, she’s eight and can run). I was paying so much attention to her and making sure that she didn’t get run into, that I failed to see the giant baby that walked out in front of me from the grass off to the side of the trail. In an instant, I had side checked the baby, who I think caught a little air and landed on the grass. The baby looked stunned, waited a two-count, and then began to wail. I apologized quickly to the parents, who understood what had happened, and then told Natalie, “Let’s get out of here.” On we ran.

Achievement unlocked: Knock a baby over while running.

Two months down, ten to go

So, if you’re keeping score at home, the tally so far this year on new experiences:

  1. Not to be published
  2. Not to be published
  3. Transport a cement dog from one continent to another
  4. Disastrous session of Acupuncture
  5. Ocean swim in the dark
  6. Knock a baby over while running

With it only being February, the goal of 12 is looking very easy by December, but I’m not stopping at 12.  Babies, watch yourself on the running trails.

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