We had been swimming in the ocean for 45 minutes at this point and I was getting tired.
Sure, I was having fun, too. My mom and I swam down the along the shoreline and back, pretending we were sea otters. I (loudly) helped my newly-ordained deacon dad learn the basic lines of Church Slavonic he’ll need to know when we get back from vacation, repeating “Премудрость, прости!” back and forth with him hundreds of times. The three of us had a great time bellowing the ending to “In the Dark of the Night” with me as Rasputin and my parents as my evil minion back up singers. We added in some Beach Boys and Beatles for good measure.
But man, I was so cold! The water was lovely, in theory — the Pacific ocean at its best, a tropical beach in Maui. But the perfect temperature for a hot day felt a little too chilly now that the sun was starting to set.
“M-m-mom, let’s g-g-go in. I’m f-freezing!” I said, letting my teeth chatter a teensy bit more than necessary.
“You just need to move more! Swim around, like me. Don’t just stand there!” she chirped.
Okay, way too cheerful for me to handle in my current state. “Why don’t we head back to the hotel?” I suggested. Secretly, in my oh-so-tired head, it wasn’t a suggestion.
“Noooo, let’s watch the sun set!” My mom floated on her back, a contented grin on her face.
She would be happy to float there forever, but my fun meter had already hit full. Fun time’s over, Mom! This introvert needs some chill-and-watch-Netflix time.
I sighed. The sky was already turning pink. I guessed I could hold out another ten minutes or so.
I was treading water trying to get warm when I noticed a man waving us in. My dad was already on the beach. I called to my mom and we both swam to shore. I glanced around and saw that almost no one was in the ocean anymore — everyone was lined up staring at the water.
“What’s up?” my mom asked. I shrugged, baffled.
When we had climbed through a few feet of sand I asked my dad what was going on.
“Sharks,” he said. “They said they saw sharks in the water.”
The big toothy monsters that take chunks out of people? Those kinds of sharks?
I manage to tolerate the salty water filled with squishy creepy crawlies by telling myself I’ll never see a shark, and now they’re in the water I was just SWIMMING in?
You’ve gotta be kidding me.
“How do they know they’re sharks and not dolphins or something?” I asked.
“We don’t,” he answered, smirking a bit.
So I was freezing on the beach for nothing? Greaaat. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around myself like a big blanket.
Everyone was out of the water at this point except for one man in swim cap and goggles way out in the distance. All eyes were on him and the surrounding water. If there was a shark, no one wanted to miss seeing the oblivious swimmer dude get eaten.
One couple in particular had taken charge, urging laggards to come onto the sand and explaining the situation. They told us that sharks feed at sunrise and sunset, so it’s best to avoid swimming at those hours. Apparently there had been accidents at nearby beaches in the last couple of weeks.
The man was knee-deep in the water watching the swimmer. His wife had warned him not to wave to the guy — the worst thing the swimmer could do was panic and start splashing as he swam toward shore.
My family and I watched the proceedings with skeptical anticipation. The sky was streaked with bright orange and pink, the water littered with little fin-shaped shadows. Blacktips, indeed. Those two claimed not only to have seen the sharks, but also to have identified their species? Yeah right. Chances were the overzealous couple were jumping at —
“There!” my dad shouted, pointing.
“I see it,” I said. But I don’t believe it.
Whoa. There they were again — two curved, sharply pointed black fins, clear as day.
I watched the swimmer in the distance with renewed intensity.
He was swimming right toward the fins.
* * *
The next day, at the aquarium, we still hadn’t decided if the couple was knowledgeable or full of it. After all, they’d only been living in Hawaii for a year — hardly the CV of a pair of local marine wildlife gurus.
We glanced at the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, scanned the seahorses and octopi, admired starfish and colorful coral. But, of course, the party didn’t really start till we got to the shark tunnel. We arrived just in time for the presentation where a scuba diver fed the sharks, rays, and tuna while giving fun facts over a loudspeaker.
“Believe it or not, sharks are more scared of you than you are of them,” she said.
Pshhhh. Sharks and wasps and honeybees might not be out to get me, but that doesn’t make their bites any less painful!
“Any of you think you might want to come in here someday?”
A bunch of kids up front raised their hands. Poor little things. They hadn’t yet learned how to fear ocean creatures properly.
After listing off the handful of expensive requirements the kids would have to meet before they could dive to their deaths, she moved on to the part of the presentation I wanted to hear.
“Those of you who didn’t raise your hands are probably wondering how to avoid these guys. Well, the first thing to know is that you shouldn’t go swimming at dawn or dusk — that’s when sharks feed.”
Oh, hey. Guess the couple was right after all.
I tuned out the next few tips about spear fishermen and clouds to ponder how I’d never again watch the sun set while swimming in the ocean. It sounds fun, but so not worth risking a reenactment of Jaws.
Next time, I’ll be watching the sun set from terra firma, thank you very much.