I stood on the shore looking out into Kailua bay and admired the turquoise water. In the distance I could see where there was a reef, its presence indicated by a change in the wavelets. Beyond the reef, the bottom plunged away causing the reef to be a demarcation line between the turquoise water of the bay and the deep blue color of the ocean. I was on vacation in Hawaii, loving the weather, the cooling tradewinds, flowering trees, colorful birds, and the slow pace of the island off the tourist track.
I’d been taking kiteboarding lessons for three days and today I was going to go it alone. I was confident that I could keep the kite in the air and maneuver myself well enough, but I wore a waterskiing flotation vest anyway. If I dropped the kite into the water and couldn’t get it reinflated, I could have a long paddle to shore, dragging the kite behind me. I took a deep breath and walked knee deep into the water, the kite hovering in the wind above me. I put one foot on the board, sliding it into a foot stay and controlled the kite so it no longer idled above me, but started to use the wind to propel me. I brought my other foot up and onto the board and I was off. I let the kite drop so the rigging lines were almost parallel with the water and drove the kite to make figure eights. The kite was shaped like a wing, and so carving the figure eight kept the kite in motion and that motion created lift that caused me to cut through the water at a good clip.
There were other kiteboarders out on the bay, experts all I surmised. They used their kites to haul them high into the air, some as high as forty feet before floating back down to the waters surface. Most of the boarders used this maneuver to reverse their direction, unlike me, who wobbled a wide unbalanced turn. I ended up making a wide oval racetrack pattern which increased in size as my confidence grew.
I began to relax a bit, learning to lean back much like waterskiing rather than riding bent at the waist and expending way more muscle power than I needed to. As I was in the offshore run of my racetrack I realized that I had made it all the way to the reef and could clearly see the bottom in the crystal waters. As I zipped along I saw splashes of color, some of them coral, some plants and some were fish. I looked down at the rocks and saw the anemones that cuddled next to them and though how cool was this and decided I would come back out with a sea kayak and do some snorkeling.
And that when I saw the hammerhead shark. It was a small one, only seven or eight feet long and the instant I saw it, panic instilled itself in me. All at once I was terrified that if I fell, I would fall right in front of this vicious predator, my splash ringing the dinner bell. My muscles went rigid in fear which only made me more unstable. That’s when I saw the second hammerhead. It was a foot smaller than the other, but still more than large enough to scare me witless. Another boarder came zipping along and gave me a friendly wave. I yelled for him to look out, there were hammerhead sharks below. He looked down to the side of his board and then nodded, SMILED and gave a THUMBS UP!
I wobbled my shaking board for the shore, a good half mile distant. I had to tack back and forth because the wind was blowing offshore and out to sea so it took what felt like forever to get back to the beach. I rode the board right up onto the sand, not wanting to step in any water deeper than my ankle. As it was, I stepped from the board onto the sand. I collapsed the kite and stood there looking out at all of the joyriding kiteboarders. There must have been fifty people out there having an epic day. The friend, whose house on the beach I’d been staying at walked over to me and said I looked like I was getting the hang of kiteboarding. Of course, he could kiteboard, windsurf, and surf, not to mention taking his sea kayak way out into the ocean. The benefits of living on Kailua Beach on Oahu.
“There’s sharks out there.” I said. “I saw two hammerheads. Two of the damn things!” He smiled and said that there were always sharks in the bay and they liked to hang out near the reef, except near dawn and dusk, when they patrolled close to shore.
“They leave you alone, mostly.” he said. Mostly? Holy crap! “That’s why you don’t go swimming at dawn and dusk. Basically, it’s a bad idea to swim in the dark too.” My mind immediately went to the scene in Jaws where the girl was attacked.
I spent the last two days of my vacation walking the beach, watching the people ply their favorite sports on the water and relaxing in the sun. But I didn’t go into the water.
I returned to Hawaii a year later, gain visiting my friend and staying at his house. I spent the first day and a half on the safety of dry land, but finally decided that I’d just stay clear of the reef. As long as I wasn’t looking at sharks sharing the water with me, well, out of sight, out of mind.