Selachophobia and a Fearful Imagination

This past weekend I drove to Port Orange, Florida for my first ever youth surf trip. Seventy plus youth and leaders, surfboards galore, and various other beach equipment packed into vehicles with everyone read to have an all around good time. I was ready to go, ready to surf, but I had made a pre-surf trip mistake about a month and a half too early that would haunt me up until the time that we left…

I had gone to see the movie Soul Surfer. Now don’t get me wrong, Soul Surfer is a great Christian themed film. I would totally recommend that people go see it (not little kids though). In case you don’ t know, the movie is about Bethany Hamilton, a surfer girl living in Hawaii who gets her arm bit off by a Tiger Shark. The movie proceeds to tell her inspirational story and how she finds strength in God to achieve her dreams and encourage others to do the same in spite of their physical limitations. It really is an awesome story. It actually inspired some of the youth on our trip to go and learn to surf.

The thing is that the shark scene in the movie is brutal. In fact everyone in the theater I saw it in jumped or screamed when the shark attacked… Me on the other hand, well I just had to pick my jaw up off the floor. That’s because when I saw the shark go off on this girl the first thing that came to mind was our surf trip.

Now truth be told – I think that you probably have a better chance of getting struck by lightning then you do getting attacked by a shark. But of course that doesn’t stop my over imaginative mind from concocting my death/limb removing scene in my head. And for the last month or so I have been continually seeing, hearing, and remembering things that helped spur these thoughts along.

Take last summer for example. I went Cobia fishing with some friends of mine and then we went fishing for Tiger sharks. As it so happened our charter captain, Chip (Outcast Charters) has the state record for several types of sharks in South Carolina. At one point we had a shark on the line that he estimated was between 500-800 lbs. Eventually it tail whipped the fishing line and broke 200 pound test. This particular captain has actually caught numerous Tiger Sharks over 1000 lbs in that same spot. My friend even caught a shark that day and it was over 5 ft long and I probably could have just about fit my head in its mouth. Can you then imagine what a 15 ft., 1000+ pounder would look like?

The crazy thing wasn’t even the size of these sharks – it was that the captain’s prized “spot” was in view of one of the biggest hotels on Hilton Head. I could clearly see people with their little kids swimming off the beach just a ways over from where we were. Yikes!

But instead of focusing on the negative I thought I’d try and focus on the positive. So I went to Barnes and Nobles and got a surfing magazine –Transworld Surf– so I could check out how awesome surfing is. No kidding, the first article that I opened up to was about a guy who got his leg bit off by a Tiger Shark! This wasn’t getting any better. It started to seem like every time I mentioned surfing someone would say – don’t get “Soul Surfer-ed” or “Careful, you’re going to get eaten by a shark.” Not helping. I turn on the radio – they are talking about sharks. I get on the Internet – shark feature. I started having shark dreams at night. I watched the movie “The Mechanic” the night before the trip and – in a movie that has nothing to do with surfing the beach or any of that – an excerpt showing a Shark Attack! Can sharks “smell” fear? Oh man, I am in trouble!

But what am I gonna do? It’s not like I can bail on this trip. So, I told my wife goodbye. I let her know that I love her. I’m not coming back… I’m sure of it. She essentially told me to “knock it off, go have good time” and she’d pray that I “didn’t fall down and get hurt.”

The funny thing about fear is that a lot of time it is manufactured. As soon as I got down to the water I wasn’t worried at all. I got on a body-board and paddled way out into the ocean past several layers of waves. I ended up out past all of the surfers at one time. It was beautiful out there.

Now that’s not to say that shark attacks aren’t real. Sure they are. But we had a far better chance of getting in a car wreck on the way there then we did getting attacked by a shark. And I am pretty sure that there were probably sharks where we were swimming. Maybe some even swam right under me. If so, I never saw them because I was too busy taking in God’s wondrous creation all around me.

Yes, at one time I did even manage to stand up on a surfboard. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a surfer just yet (it was more like a calculated lunge anyway) but hey, it’s a start, and it was really fun. A lot of our youth also managed to surf for the first time and some did quite well. It was great to be able to share that experience with them and just have that time together.

If I had held on to my shark-phobia I really would have really missed out. But that’s pretty much how life is isn’t it? We live in a world that perpetuates fear in just about everything we do. And while it is easy to get wrapped up in that fear – I personally think that it’s far better to get on with living the life that God intends for us. So the next time you find yourself obsessing over something that might keep you from experiencing your next “great” experience in life –consider what you might be missing. God may have something in store for you far better than you could have ever fearfully imagined.