Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Girl Surfs World, by Melissa Diamond: is the newest surf memoir on the market. The book follows her around the globe as she explores new cultures and faces her fears, including this story of a close encounter with a great white off the coast of Cape Town:
Wanting more, always wanting more, I fixed my eyes on that wave further out and away from my friends. I dug into the South African sea toward the two other surfers, or was it three? Dove under an oncoming wave and noticed a dark shadow that went below, but the surfer never came up for air. I scanned the surface for the soul but found only confusion, the feeling of something not right, the obvious eluded me.
Ripples disrupted the smooth sheet of ocean, tell-tale signs of movement below. I saw a dark shape too large to be a seal. I squinted and shaded my eyes to get a better view, just able to make out pointy tips. “Never turn your back to the sea” are words of wisdom every surfer knows, so I turned to assess for a looming crest. Nothing.
The black jagged sail sliced up and above the surface, solid and sleek. So close I could have touched the tip.
Pure terror chokes me, silence devours me. Curled up on my tiny six-foot fiberglass island, I devise a plan: if I am quiet enough and small enough, maybe I can make myself invisible. I squeeze my eyes shut so that when I open them it will be gone.
My eyes open, my heart still beating, I’m still breathing. I look to my right, nothing. On my left the rigid fin now prowling close, too close, so close I can grip it easily.
“Paddle, Missy, SHARK! Paddle!” Rory’s scream jolts my brain from frozen to reality and motivates me to movement.
Can’t move, but can’t do nothing, I peel back, the stinging cold liquid, one motion, one arm at a time. Pull back and dip deep down towards death, pull back a potent sea and wait for what will be. I part the frigid waters, heaven above, death below…
“PADDLE, MISSY, PADDLE!”
My glazed gaze shifts from the distant sandy beach to the black, jagged sail trailing behind me. Tall and glistening in the sun, cutting through the waters in an effortless motion, steadily gliding, pursuing me with stealth precision.
My only thought a prayer, God, please help me!
“A WAVE!!! MISSY, PADDLE, PADDLE, A WAVE!”
I dig deeper, harder, paddle with all I have. I lack the courage to peek over my shoulder at the advancing wave, to gauge the speed of the curl so I can match the speed with my paddle. I can’t bear to see that hulking black fin hurtling after me, or the possibility of something worse. Black beady eyes, a gaping red mouth full of unforgiving blade teeth.
Please God, get me away, far away! Save me!
“PADDLE, MISSY, PADDLE!”
Redemption pulsing towards me, I paddle. I never look back, just depend on faith in a wave I don’t see. I peel back the water, the wave rises-up under me, gives me the familiar push, and then I am up. On my feet, I surf the wave of my salvation. Riding away on the surface of the sea, I stay up on the board until the wave dies out. I lay back down and paddle like hell to shore.
You can find Melissa’s book online here.