The sail of my windsurfer went suddenly slack, and my board slowed nearly to a stop. I was adrift more than half a mile from shore. That’s when I noticed the unmistakable sleek form of a shark following close behind me.
They say your life flashes before your eyes in moments like this, but all I could see was that it was gaining speed and rising rapidly below me.
Riding a windsurfer is like riding a bicycle. Once you learn to ride one, you never forget. But learning to ride the waves involves hours of practice and dozens – even hundreds – of falls, and the perseverance to get back on and try again. The hazards, however, are different. No scraped knees or broken arms thankfully. But drowning is a real possibility if you ride without a life jacket like we did in those days. And then there are other dangers; the perils of the deep, and creatures that lurk in dark waters.
“I’m your favorite senior citizen” a robust, athletic Deet Eichel would say, putting on the feeblest voice he could muster. The ranger at the gate would wave us through because seniors get in free. A couple of times a week Deet would swing by the cabinet shop to pick us up, windsurfers strapped to the top of the car. In thirty minutes we’d be gliding across the water, our sails full of wind.
Like sailing, windsurfing is a peaceful solitary sport. There are no motors and no noise, only the sound of your board rippling across the top of the water. Maybe now and then a “WooHoo!” from one of your partners. It requires strength and stamina and, oh yes, wind. It is not uncommon to find yourself alone in the center of a huge body of water far from shore with no one in sight. And that‘s exactly where I was when the wind died.
Balancing on a windsurfer without any wind is like riding a bicycle at zero miles per hour. I’ve seen Lance Armstrong stay upright on a fully stopped bicycle, but then, he’s a professional. I was beginning to lose my balance, and was about to drop into the water when I saw it. My mind began to race, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It was at least six feet long. “What kind of giant fish live in fresh water? Sturgeon…Shark? There was no mistaking the fact that it was getting closer. I began to see long green tendrils protruding from the top of it as bright sunlight illuminated the ground around it.
Then I realized…the tendrils were grass, and my “shark” was the shadow of my windsurfer! I hopped off the board, laughing. I stood on solid ground in three feet of water in the very center of the lake. It was an underwater hill with grass growing on it that would be an island when the water level dropped a few feet. But for now it was one of those uncanny things that turn a regular day of windsurfing into an adventure on the high seas.
(Thanks to my husband, John Paladini, for sharing this story.)