Trips to the beach are one the many reasons I love summertime. I was only three months old on my first beach vacation and I believe it was that trip that got me hooked on the great elixir of the salt and the sand. Since that time I have made the trek to one of Florida’s many beaches at least once a year and gained a lifetime of memories on those trips.
I continued that tradition just a few weeks ago, spending a week with my family in New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of Florida. Even though it stormed every afternoon for hours on end, it was a wonderful trip, with my nephew Brayden entertaining everyone for hours on end. When the weather was actually cooperating, I took advantage by playing in the water for one of my favorite activities, riding the waves on my boogie board. However, that activity was quickly squashed during the middle of the week, thanks to a finned creature with rather sharp teeth cruising along the shoreline looking for a mid-morning snack.
While walking down the beach, my daddy and I were wading through the knee-high water to cool off as my mama looked for shells on the shore, when a lady mentioned in passing that there had been a shark spotted in the shallow water and he was moving in our direction. I was a little skeptical at first, thinking it might have been one of those baby sharks that are often caught at the edge of the water and are generally no more than a foot long. But still, the mention of the s-word was enough to make us come ashore, coupled with the fact that my dear, sweet mama was standing on the beach urging us with great enthusiasm to get out of the water that very instant.
Then, not even two minutes later, we saw him just 10 feet off shore, right near where we had been. In the crystal clear water we were able to see him quite well; we could even see his eye as he slowly swam past. He looked to be about four and a half to five feet long, but I have no idea as to what type of shark it was. My brother-in-law, Derek, is convinced it was a Great White, and continued to sing the music they play in “Jaws” for the rest of the week anytime we got near the water. No matter what type it was, I am forever thankful for the lady who chose to warn us, instead of letting us discover it on our own. I’m sure one of two things would have happened had I saw it coming towards me: I would have been paralyzed with fear or passed out.
In all my years of going to the beach, I have only had one other encounter with a large animal in the sea and I chose the “paralyzed with fear” route at that time. We were in Fort Walton Beach and the water had overturned, making it much colder than usual, but there were good waves to ride, so I ventured out with my daddy. Looking back we were probably out further than we should have been, but that is where the waves were breaking, so that is where we went. It was while we were waiting on one of these waves that I saw my life flash before my eyes.
As a wave of blue-green water rolled over, I noticed at the same time as my daddy that there was a large dark spot in the water, moving in our direction. We both feared the worst and thought we might have been as stupid as my mama said we were to go out as far as we did, but we quickly came up with a plan. There was a large group of people close by who were making lots of noise and splashing around. So daddy and I decided to be very still and very quiet in hopes that whatever was in the water would eat the loud people first, giving us a chance to make it back to the shore.
We both began floating on our boogie boards and waited for what seemed like hours for the beast to strike. Closer and closer it came, as we literally held our breath. Suddenly, it popped out of the water and we were able to see that it was… a manatee! Talk about breathing a sigh of relief; for a minute there we thought we were going to need a bigger board!
Although I was a little nervous after both encounters to go back into the water, I managed to make my way back out, keeping in mind that you are more likely to be killed by a vending machine than you are a shark attack. Since I only get to go to the beach about once a year, I figure my chances of surviving look pretty good, but perhaps I should take more precautions when going to grab a snack at work!
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1