The events recounted here occurred in 2003…
It was 5:00 am when the alarm sounded. Groggy, I opened an eye and gazed up at the ceiling, allowing my vision to adjust to the darkness that shrouded the bedroom. On either side of me were Ocean and Nube, our cats, oblivious to everything except their own mysterious dreams. It was a chilly morning and they were both pressed hard against me, sleeping away soundly. I felt like a slab of ham sandwiched between two slices of feline.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up on my elbows. After a moment, I gently moved aside both cats and pushed off the covers. The hardwood floor was cold as I padded across the room and shut off the alarm, silencing the annoying and insistent buzzing. I stood for a moment, shivering in the cold, vigorously rubbing my arms, and looked back at the bed. Lauren lay fast asleep, our dog Kyla curled up in a tight ball at her feet. I yawned. A warm bed and blessed sleep beckoned but I brushed aside the temptation and proceeded to get dressed.
Half an hour later, I was seated behind the wheel of my Subaru, barreling down the highway, headlights slicing through the fog and darkness. A cup of hot steaming tea sat in the center console beside me.
I was supposed to meet my buddy Rus at a reef break north of town at 6:00. But it wasn’t just any reef break; this particular spot had a bit of a reputation – a dubious reputation, to say the least. In 1991, a surfer there was attacked – and nearly killed – by a Great White shark estimated to be 15 feet in length. His story was subsequently splashed all over the Bay Area news, and nearly every surfer who surfs there – especially the locals – knows the terrifying tale. Since then, the spot has acquired the nickname “Shark Bites.”
I had recently moved to the Santa Cruz area and, while I’d surfed many of the region’s breaks, I had thus far studiously avoided that particular spot. However, when Rus discovered I had yet to paddle out there he, immediately instituted a full-court press, extolling Shake Bites’ virtues and downplaying the dangers. His urgings had been so insistent I had finally agreed.
The crazy thing was, I had actually met the 1991 victim several years ago in Washington, where we had both been attending a mountaineering clinic in Bellingham. At a café over sandwiches and ice tea, he had told me his story – in all its graphic and terrifying details. Now, years later, as my car pulled into the parking lot, tires crunching against gravel, I couldn’t help but think about the incident – indeed, “obsess” might be a better word.
I turned off the engine and the lights and sat for a moment. Except for the sound of breaking waves, the car was silent. I sipped what was left of my tea and pondered my situation. To say that my nerves were a little rattled would be an understatement. There was no doubt the shark attack story was preying heavily on my mind. And the morning’s gloom wasn’t doing my nerves any favors either.
After a few minutes, Rus rolled up in his truck and parked beside me. He immediately exited and, coffee in hand, sauntered over.
I rolled down my window. “Bright and early, huh?”
He grinned. “Always. You ready to hit it?”
“No time like the present,” I said, trying to muster a semblance of enthusiasm.
Rus returned to his truck and began to squeeze into his wetsuit and wax his board while I walked around to the back of my car and opened the hatch, carefully extracting my board and wetsuit. After placing my board on the ground, I stood holding my wetsuit and meticulously began to brush off minute specks of dust, taking my time. If anyone had read my mind at that moment, they would’ve seen my thoughts pin-balling back and forth between paddling out and running for the hills.
Already dressed and holding his board, Rus eyed me. “You coming, or what?”