The following is an excerpt from our forthcoming book titled Shark Country Survivors, intended completion date in August:
You can simply call me The Founder, for now. I have too many days lately watching old surfing competition re-runs on my computer and staring at the abandoned go-kart track across the street—anything to break up the monotony of the day. The go-kart track reminds me of more care-free times, when I was boy in Kauai spending all day just trying to catch the perfect wave. The memories of my youth are so distant now. But I can still close my eyes, and imagine I’m twelve years old again, and it’s as if I have transported out of this confined office space to a much happier time. My thinning grey hair of today, replaced with my thick, dark, slightly curled black hair of my youth, and my whole life ahead of me to chase my dreams. Suddenly, I’m back on the beach. The shining blue ocean and beaches made of gold. Trees of eden green lining multi-colored roads. Nothing but the ocean wind in my hair, the smell of salt air, and sand between my toes. I’d lay on the beach at night staring at the sky, sleeping under the stars while looking for mars. Flickering lights in an endless sky. The next day I’d wake up. The sun chasing the moon, knowing the light rain would soon turn to fruit. But where did it all go?
One night sleeping under the stars changed my life forever. I had dug myself a bed in the sand on the beach, using my white surfboard trimmed in blues and bright greens as the headboard. The rushing of the ocean waves lulling me to the deepest sleep I’ve experienced. But when I awoke from my deep slumber, I found myself alone on a wooden raft strung together with strips of palm leaves, and nothing but the great blue Pacific Ocean surrounding me on all sides, in every direction, as far as my eyes could see, and the shore nowhere to be found. I slowly looked around in every direction, but all I could see is blue, blue water reaching out to infinity, and a clear azul sky above without a cloud in sight. All the while the blinding bright sun beat down on me overhead.
The human mind is always searching for explanations. Perhaps it’s survival instinct, but it’s more than that. The mind vainly tries to understand things that it never can, and never will. Creating familiar questions that everyone faces at one time or another. Why me? Why now? What’s the point of all this?
Just hours ago, I had finished a perfect day of surf, and was safely asleep on the beach outside of the small home my parents owned in Kauai. Now, I was lost at sea. This must be a dream, I thought to myself. But I’d reach down off the raft, and feel the reality of the water around me, separating me from the rest of the world. It couldn’t have been a dream, unless dreams can be as real as life itself.
Oh, yes, I know what happened, I’d tell myself. Someone must have seen me asleep on the beach and decided to play a horrible joke on me. They gently set me on the raft and pushed me out in the waves without waking me. They expected I would wake up when the waves started rocking the raft—and they’d get a good laugh at my astonishment. Instead, they were astonished I didn’t wake up. Then, a riptide caught the raft and carried me offshore—at which point the perpetrator must have panicked and ran away, realizing the danger he’d caused me, and not wanting to get in trouble. It seemed implausible, but it’s all I could think of as an explanation. As if somehow an explanation would make my predicament better, and bring some comfort ever so small. But of course, I had no idea what actually happened.
Oceans can have currents strong enough to carry a person away, miles from shore. Although a riptide will not pull you under the water, you are in big trouble when it starts pulling you away from shore. If you’re ever on the beach and see unusual breaking patterns in the waves and discolored water with sand kicking toward the surface, you better stay on shore. Riptides are the number one cause of lifeguard rescues at the beach. You hear stories on the news all the time—unfortunate stories. I just heard one the other day about how a beachgoer and his son went for a swim at the beach and got caught in a riptide. The television reporter read the teleprompter undemonstratively—the lifeguard rescued the boy, but the father’s body washed up on shore three days later. And that was it—for that man, an entire life of fears and joys, setbacks, failures, successes, boredom and everything else life entails snuffed out from a day at the beach.
Most people panic when they realize they are being pulled away from shore. That’s the worst thing you can do. You have to try and remain calm first and foremost. Think like a survivor. Now the second thing you should do is swim parallel to the shore—don’t try to swim directly back to the shore or it will be as if you’re trying to swim up a river. Of course, if you could do that, you wouldn’t be getting pulled from shore to begin with. You have to swim parallel to the shore until you escape the current, and then swim back to the shore at an angle. If swimming is impossible, try to float on your back. Take deep breathes and fill your lungs with as much air as possible. Call for help while remaining calm. You’d be amazed at how efficiently you can float in water with minimal effort. Most of all, believe you will survive even in the bleakest of situations. It’s easier said than done, but negative thinking doesn’t help anyone.
But I’d be lying if I said negative thinking didn’t enter my mind on that raft. I wondered if I would suffer the same fate as that boy’s father. All I knew was being completely alone at sea is a very odd feeling. In some ways, it was peaceful. Not another soul in sight, which consequently meant no one could bother me. And whatever responsibilities I’d had before and mundane worries about what the next day would bring vanished in the breeze—except for one, singular thought. How on earth would I survive out here in shark country?
And soon, I’d noticed that the time alone caused my mind to wander to strange places. Not knowing how I arrived in this situation to begin with, I thought to myself, imagine something unusual had happened. Perhaps an apocalypse or an alien invasion, and imagine finding my way back to civilization, only to discover that all the other billions of people on planet earth had disappeared, nowhere to be found. I’d walk through the motionless streets, lined with parked self-driving cars. Some starting automatically and driving to where their former owners scheduled them to be. This one going to the underground parking ground of the skyscraper in New York City where the man would continue his 40 hours per week in a prison of glass walls. That one, going to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco where a young woman had intended to meet her fiancé for a picnic. Alas, it was not meant to be. The car’s smart self-driving system activated, but no one behind the wheel, and no one in the passenger seats. The smart cars continued to do the job they had been programmed to do.
Business as usual. Except there was no more business now. Homes and businesses empty shells, and grocery stores filled with food quickly perishing. Empty self-checkout lines and registers still filled with cash. Well, actually only digitally filled with digital coins. Cash, as I’m sure you know, no longer is permitted legal tender. With nobody else surviving, it was thrilling to think that I could now live wherever I chose, and have whatever I chose of what remained on earth. The very thought of being delighted to have my pick of any home in the country made me repulse at my depravity. Is that really all I would think about if no one else were around? Wouldn’t I miss anyone? Would they miss me? That’s when I forced myself to come out of my apocalyptic daydream and return to reality. The reality of being entirely alone at sea.
Until I had a visitor. Suddenly, a yellow and orange tropical bird landed gently on the corner of the raft, and immediately hope filled my heart. I knew birds could fly for miles and miles out over the ocean, but perhaps the bird had arrived from an island somewhere nearby. I would do anything to escape to an island. With every passing moment, the small raft felt more and more confining, holding me hostage with walls of endless blue water. As I studied the raft, it actually seemed expertly built of natural materials, as if someone with years of survival experience had fashioned it with his hands. But still worries flooded my mind. What if a tropical storm sweeps in? If I am out here much longer, what will I eat? What will I drink?
I knew instinctively drinking ocean water couldn’t be safe. Ocean water is filled with salt, and the human kidneys can only process so much salt at a time. It’s impossible for the human body to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking ocean water. Drinking ocean water presented an odd dilemma—if I drank the water, I would only get thirstier, and eventually die of dehydration. The irony of dying by dehydration while surrounded by approximately 352 quintillion gallons of water. I imagined the ocean laughing at me, cackling at my unfortunate plight.
I remembered how unpleasant ocean water tastes. I’d drunk it down before in big gulps—but not by choice. It had actually happened just days before when I skipped out on school looking for bigger waves on the north shore. Chasing bigger waves seems to be a theme in my life I haven’t been able to escape. When the wave pulled me under, I knew immediately, instantly, instinctually…my life was in danger. That feeling of myself being at the center of my universe dissipated with the crushing wave. Still, I’d thought to survive. I’ll just swim. But which way? I had lost orientation to the surface and had no idea whether I would be swimming up or down. Or perhaps, horizontally ever further away from the shore. As I could hold my breath no longer, the salt water poured into my stomach and then eventually my lungs, flooding the life out of me. I woke up on the shore, vomiting sea water. I wasn’t sure how long I had been unconscious. Perhaps a few minutes or a few hours or a few days. Chaos and struggle, life and death, surrounded by a view so beautiful and peaceful you could take a picture, put it on a postcard and send it home to grandma. The sun was shining happily, giving life to all things. I sat there feeling ill and staring at the ocean, realizing the ocean hadn’t cared in the least whether I lived or died. It was so much bigger than me. I was nothing in its presence. I imagined all the sharks and other beasts of the sea lurking as normal, looking for their next meal—and perhaps it would have been me had I not been so fortuitous. And what actually happened? One moment my lungs filled with water, I lost consciousness and then I’m back on shore? Was I just that lucky? Then, like now, my mind searched for an explanation that eluded me.
Now, I looked again at this tiny raft. At least I had the company of that tropical bird. He seemed cheerful somehow, and I thought the spiked white feather on his head look quite awesome. I thought maybe I’ll give the bird a name. I pondered what to call him, until an ominous thought invaded my mind again. I may have to eat this bird to survive. The bird must have read my mind, or seen the fixated look in my eyes. Just then, it launched itself powerfully off the raft and took off flying majestically toward the horizon, hovering just a few feet above the surface of the ocean. I watched carefully, noting the direction it flew. Land must be in that direction—perhaps if I slowly paddle that way, I will make it to safety. The bird had only flown about fifty yards from the raft when I saw something terrifying. A mass jumped out of the water, razor sharp teeth glistening in the pacific sun and lunging at the bird with anger and vengeance. It almost seemed like a personal attack, and not merely a search for a meal. The bird escaped, but only by inches. I was glad that bird escaped—its blood in the water could have only attracted more sharks. I couldn’t help but think maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky. When there’s blood in the water, sharks circle all around. And I started to think I’d be the lucky one if I only drown. Unlike the bird, I couldn’t just spread my wings and fly away. I would have to learn to survive in shark country.