Okay, I admit it- I can’t swim. After years of swimming lessons at the local pool, not to mention countless one on one lessons with my navy veteran father, the best that I’ve ever been able to do is tread water for a few minutes. And probably because of this fact, I have a near incapacitating fear of bodies of water. Nothing will get me hyperventilating like being in the water and not being able to touch the bottom. Throw in the fear of creatures that live in the water such as sharks and jellyfish and it’s a wonder I’ve ever touched the ocean at all. But this was going to change because I was in Tahiti and I was determined that not only was I going to get in the water, but I was going to try snorkeling and surfing for the first time.
We went to the far tip of the island called Teahupoo, which is world famous for surfing competitions that are held here, and found a relatively secluded spot where the waves were pretty mild. I was trying to practice some deep breathing as I sat on the board and started paddling my way into the water without actually looking at the water, trying not to think about the dark finned shadow that passed next to our boat the previous day coming back from a neighboring island. This pseudo zen feeling lasted right up to the point that I stood up on the board. The wave came and knocked me off the board, sending me into the water where I pulled out my great skill of treading water in a panic. More waves came hitting me, moving me forward, until finally I ended up with my face in the sand of the beach spluttering out water and curse words. My board had ended up a ways down the beach and as I lugged it back my friend said “Good, now try it again.” And back in the water I went with the same result…again…and again….and again…and again. Finally I’d had enough, and said that I was going turn in my board. I pulled out the snorkeling mask and fins and started making my way back into the water. Snorkeling is not nearly as easy as it looks. And it took me a few times of my breathing stick going under before I got the hang of it. I was floating along, with only minor bouts of hyperventilating, feeling proud of myself, when I noticed a finned creature just ahead of me. I yelled out, causing water to flow down the tube, as I tried to make my fins corporate into reversing only to find that you can’t reverse with fins. While I was wildly and ungracefully trying to put as much distance between me and the creature as possible, with water filling my breathing stick over and over, my friend casually comes over to take a picture of the little baby shark that is causing this great commotion. I made it back to the shore vowing I would not be going in the water ever again. As we drove back along the coast, I couldn’t help but feel a returning sense of pride. I didn’t surf, and I didn’t really snorkel, but I tried it even though I’m so terrified of the water. And really, there is no better place to tread water than in the beautiful waters of French Polynesia.