Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Reef Is Shark-Infested

My first shark encounter happened when I was nineteen. Spent the whole day soaking up sun on a Galveston Texas beach, wearing nothing but white shorts and dark glasses. I felt immortal and invincible. As evening shadows fell upon the incoming waves, I waded far out to fish with a smelly bait-bucket tied to my belt. I then cast even farther out over the edge of a deep shelf.

Something strong grabbed the hook. When it fled away from me, the ominous shark fin surfaced, so I relinquished all the line it wanted as I retreated shoreward. My underwater walking was frighteningly slow. By the time the shark reached the limit of the line and returned to see what was on my end, I was in waist-high water, halfway between its comfort zone and mine.

I kept the line tight. The only thing scarier than watching a shark go around you in ever-shrinking circles is not knowing where the hell it is. We were destined to meet in a few more rotations. When I cautiously netted the razor-toothed, glassy-eyed beast, my heart was pounding.

This writer's second-most-exciting shark encounter took place at the cinema. The Reef is probably the best shark movie ever made. The Australian film is tenser than Jaws with almost none of the silliness. The real-time pace, effective use of silence, and water-level perspective make it seem like the events are really happening - plus you're a part of it. Two couples enjoy a relaxing cruise, until their boat overturns in dangerous waters. Don't miss the chance to share their experience without sharing their fate.


  1. This was so nail-bitingly good! I loved reading every sentence!

  2. Elisabeth,
    What can I say? Sharks are nearly as intimidating as beautiful women, but with courage, prayer, and a stiff drink a man stands a slight chance of not only survival but a great catch.

  3. What impressed me about your anecdote is that you kept your head cool throughout! I just received a book called, Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark. I thought of it as I read your post.

  4. Bonjour Laura,
    Cool-sounding title. I did keep my head, but I think that was mostly youthful naivete. Still, later world-trekking adventures have convinced me that you really start living when you lose the fear of death. Regarding the above-mentioned fear of attractive women, I won't even change planes in your province of Quebec.

  5. Wow. So much suspense in such a short amount of words. Going to look up The Reef now.

    An article about a shark attack in Reader's Digest circa 1974--with a photo of a man missing a chunk of his leg--still ranks as one of my scariest (and most formative) reading experiences ever.