Oceanic ignorance is swimming bliss

Kristine Gill

I love the beach. And by the beach I don’t mean the rocky shores of Lake Erie. I’m talking South Carolina and that Atlantic Ocean. We’ve visited Litchfield Beach almost every year since I was born, and when you drive 12 hours, you don’t just stare at the water. You get in and swim. So when I go to the beach it’s with the mindset that I’ll be swimming with my cousins in the ocean for a few hours each day.

I have to go with that intense mentality because there is usually something that happens within the first few days that makes us not want to go near the water for the rest of the week. It could be spotting a fisherman’s catch on our nightly walk, or hearing about a shark attack in Florida, or getting pinched by a crab or stepping on something slippery in the sand belt. It might be watching in horror as my sister reaches down into chest-high water to extract a bright red starfish from underneath her foot only to stare dumbfounded at it and promptly return it to the ocean with the force of her shot-putting arm.

Two summers ago I was swimming in the ocean with my cousins when such an event occurred. There were probably six of us, all of various ages and swimming abilities, splashing around in the water when we spotted a circle of fins break the water’s surface only a few yards from us. The fins, probably only five inches from the points to the bases, were swimming in a circle, no doubt eager to feast on tender child flesh. We screamed and scattered, doing our best to run to shore through waist-high water. It was every kid for himself.

Back on shore we were terrified. We had no idea what the fins belonged to, but were prepared to accept that they were indeed man-eating mini sharks that hunted in packs for children. We were scared, but not scared enough to stay away from the water. We had driven 12 hours, and we were going to make the most of this vacation. We went back in the ocean. A second encounter with the fins shook our confidence, but we held fast; we swam on.

It’s not like we weren’t scared though. My sister expressed concern on a regular basis, bringing up the topic of death by unidentified sea creature every five minutes. The only way we were going to enjoy our week at the beach would be in the water. The only way we’d get in the water would be if I could present a false fa‡ade for my sister. I told Katie not to worry even though I myself was terrified. With gentle persuasion and seemingly firm conviction, I coaxed Katie back into the water.

Later in the week we went to join our cousins who were already swimming. We searched the shallow waters nervously as we waded in. It was better to be in past your neck where it was too dark to see anything below than it was to see every chunk of seaweed and darting fish around our ankles. We were up to our knees in water when we looked up to see a wave a good two feet taller than us begin to rise and swell.

Its height wasn’t the scary part; we were used to getting saltwater up the nose when big, disorienting waves crushed us. No, what scared us was what we saw in the wave. Two stingrays were suspended within the wall of water, and they glided eerily with it as it crashed. There were stingrays — in the water — with little pectoral fins that broke the surface and resembled shark fins. Katie and I screamed like little girls and flailed toward the shore again.

Now I don’t know if these kinds of stingrays were dangerous. I don’t know if they were vicious or if they did in fact hunt children. What I do know is that I don’t like swimming with things I don’t know anything about. Come on Mr. Ray, if you want to eat me alive that’s fine, but try a sneak attack or something. I would really rather not see it coming. And if humans aren’t on your menu, then let’s sit down and discuss what my proper reaction to your presence should be. Because one false move and I could end up shish-kebabed like poor Steve Irwin.

Ignorance is bliss, stupidity is joy and absentminded splashing in the ocean is pure delight! Keep those pectoral fins away from the surface, stingrays; I really want to enjoy the next vacation.

Kristine Gill is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].