I love the beach early in the morning and late in the afternoon, not so much around mid-day. Probably this is a result of being a red head and having the complexion of the Pillsbury Doughboy. At any rate, we were on our annual two week visit to Alabama’s Redneck Riviera, Gulf Shores, and I led my two youngest kids, John, age four and Mary, age two, through the sea oats and down to the whitest stretch of beach to be found anywhere.
The beach in the early morning has a fresh pristine beauty that will dissolve later in the day as more and more people set up umbrellas and beach towels surfside. This morning we were here just after sunrise and had it all to ourselves. Gulf Shores is on one of the barrier islands that shield the mainland from the open Gulf of Mexico and the surf is at its calmest early in the day. Today there were very small wavelets gently kissing the beach.
The lack of a pounding surf made it possible to see the waist deep depression where the surf usually broke, leading out to a knee deep sand reef before the bottom dropped off to deeper water. The sand reef in calm waters was the perfect place for two toddlers to play. I picked up the kids and carried them through the trough to the reef and allowed them to play in the crystal clear salt water. Very calm and very safe, or so I thought.
Since the kids were content to paddle around on the shallow reef, I decided to move back toward the beach and wallow around in the deeper water of the surf depression. I have always been able to float in salt water. It has been suggested that this is due to a very low ratio of muscle to bulk. Apparently fat floats, and I was doing just that on my back while trying to keep an eye on the paddlers.
I was floating along with my mind in neutral when I noticed a gray fin about eighteen inches high cruise between me and the beach like the conning tower of a nuclear submarine. Since it was kinda shallow for submarines I suspected the object was connected to a barely submerged and probably very large shark. He swam within arm’s reach and continued quietly swimming alongside the beach.
I have a firm policy regarding snakes, sharks and large mammals. I leave them alone and in turn, they generally leave me alone. The very height of stupidity is to go shark fishing. Who wants a 300 pound eating machine in your boat? I was content to watch as the twelve foot monster cruised out of sight. Things were going well until John thought it would be great fun to splash his little sister with large slaps of water. The shark, upon sensing the commotion did a 180 and started back toward us.
I did not trust his intentions in spite of our unspoken agreement of mutual non-aggression. I suspected he would only see two hors d’oeurves and an entrée. The instinct to protect one’s off spring overcame my desire to hit the beach in safety during the hors d’oeurves, and I headed toward the splashing and yelling kids. At this point I had about a fifteen yard lead, but he was accelerating and closing the gap.
I grabbed both of the kids and heaved them up onto the beach. Now I’m no great athlete. In high school the football coach thought that anyone playing defensive tackle should be able to toss the shot put with ease. My best effort barely got the big iron ball out of my own shadow, but this morning I found super human strength and set what is still probably a world’s record for the kid toss. They were safely crying on the beach and I was nose to nose with certain death.
When you go to the beach regularly you get all kinds of advice regarding things like undertow, jelly fish and sharks. The consensus of everything I had ever heard about what to do if confronted by a shark was simple. Stand completely still, and chances are the shark will lose interest and move on. This was on my mind as I stumbled, splashed and scrambled toward shore. I was waiting to feel his razor sharp teeth hit me somewhere near my knees.
I made it to dry land, much to my surprise, and once I was certain that he had not followed me ashore I turned and looked directly into the eyes of a nearly fifteen foot mature hammer head. He was treading water and looking at me like “Just what in the hell is your problem?” John and Mary were racing toward our cottage yelling for mamma. – Tom Lawrence