Theoden Janes

When it comes to shark fears, there are rules

Due to the rash of attacks in North Carolina this year – the word “shark” has come up in our household more often than the word “dog,” which is a bit of a feat considering that we have two of them. (Dogs, not sharks.)
Due to the rash of attacks in North Carolina this year – the word “shark” has come up in our household more often than the word “dog,” which is a bit of a feat considering that we have two of them. (Dogs, not sharks.) AP

I’ll never forget the time my daughter was willing to let me get eaten by a shark.

It was the summer of 2012, and we were in St. Lucia, at a resort that had a trampoline raft anchored maybe 150 feet off shore.

One morning – before anyone else was on the beach – she decided we’d swim out to it together. But there were rules, she told me.

“OK, so you’re swimming first and I’ll follow you. That way, if a shark comes, it’ll eat you. But when we get out there, I’m climbing onto the raft first. That way, if a shark comes, it’ll eat you.”

She didn’t want to just hang out on the raft, though; she wanted to jump off of it, several times. This activity involved yet more rules.

“You’ll jump off first, and keep an eye out for the sharks. Then I’ll jump in. Wait for me to climb out, then once I’m back on the raft, you can get on, too. If you do see a shark, swim toward the beach and lead it away from me.”

In the end, we had a wonderful, shark-free dip in the ocean, capped off by her swimming about 90 miles per hour back to dry land in an effort, she said, to “get out before the sharks come.”

She was 11 then; she’s 14 now. And as I write this, we are a few hours from getting on a plane and flying to the Hawaiian island of Maui.

We’ve got lots of different water sports planned: snorkeling, surfing, swimming, sailing, maybe some cliff-jumping. She’s been dying to do all of those things. But she’s not keen on actually dying, she keeps reminding us.

Yes, as you can imagine – due to the rash of attacks in North Carolina this year – the word “shark” has come up in our household more often than the word “dog,” which is a bit of a feat considering that we have two of them. (Dogs, not sharks.)

I’ve tried to relieve her anxiety.

Me: “I read this story today on the National Geographic Channel’s website that says that in 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans while sharks injured just 13.”

Her: “I read this story today that says it’s not 1996 anymore.”

Me: “Check this out: Google says Maui is 4,797 miles from the location of the most recent shark attack in North Carolina.”

Her: “Check this out: Google says a woman got eaten by a shark while snorkeling in Maui in April.”

But the more I poke around online to find information that might make her less fearful, the more horror stories I stumble upon, and the more the “Jaws” theme music gets stuck in my head, and the more I start to think about the potential for brutal irony.

I can see it now: I’m on the beach. I’m backing into the water, beckoning to my daughter, teasing her a little. “What are you so worried about? Come on in, the water’s fine! No sharks here!” Then suddenly, without warning –

Hmmm. Maybe I need to find someone who can create a diversion for me. Someone who will get in the ocean first, and wait till I’m on the beach to come back out.

I wonder what my dad is doing this weekend...

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

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