“Sharks? I’m not worried about sharks. Plus, if something happened while surfing. I will die happy.” Melissa says as she looks out at the waves with her red and white Retro Flying Fish, a 7’2” surfboard, under her arm. The sun is setting, the waves are perfect and the conditions are unbelievably good. She then runs to the water’s edge and leaps into the waves with a big smile.
Melissa is in Byron Bay, Australia, known for having almost daily shark siting and a dangerous place to surf. This doesn’t stop her from going out to catch a few waves everyday that she can. But this confidence was only developed in the last several months. Before that, she had the worst imaginable shark phobia.
Originally from Germany, Melissa never went into the ocean past where she could stand. She developed a fear of sharks that is unimaginable by most people. “I was so afraid of sharks that I couldn’t swim in the middle of a lake. It’s illogical, because there are no sharks in the lakes of Germany. But I still found myself unable to jump off a boat into the lake.”
With no intention of going in the ocean, she found herself with a one way ticket to Australia. She fell in love with Melbourne after visiting the city a few years back and so she set out to make a life in a new place. Like so many times in life, plans changed. Once Australia, a 2 week trip to Western Australia turned into an 8 week trip. Exploring Australia because a new passion. The big city no longer attracted her. The empty beaches and unique landscapes were irresistible.
While exploring the country, she found herself in a little town near Byron Bay with nothing to do. She had already done everything that she wanted in the area. After missing the last bus of the day to Sydney, a travel agent said there was room in a surf class starting in 10 minutes. Without thinking about it, she said “yes”, and did the class. Never going deeper than waist deep water, she wasn’t worried about sharks. There were other students and the instructors made it seem safe. “I kept trying to stand up on the board, each timing falling off. Then it happened, I got my balance and rode the white water into the beach. It was so much fun! As soon as the lesson was over, I booked another lesson for the next day.”
“It wasn’t until I rode my first green wave that I fell in love with surfing.” From Melbourne she booked a 3 days surf camp. Departing each day from the city, they went down to the beach as a group to surf. While sitting on her board on the second day, the first signs of a wave started to form in the horizon. The instructor told her to turn around and “Paddle!” She gave it all she had. The wave started to lift her up and the instructor yelled “Stand up! Stand up!” Quickly she was on her feet and then she felt something that she had never felt before. Unable to describe it words she simply said, “It was way better than any orgasm that I have had, or will ever have.” The feeling of gliding across the water, being propelled by the ocean’s power, created a certain kind of serenity that she had never before imagined. After that wave, a smile was plastered on her face for days. She was addicted.
Plans changed again as life began to revolve around the surf. Melissa soon found herself living in an old white wagon, driving around Australia. She stopped going to the typical tourist places. Rather, she looked for the best waves. She explored the frigid waters of Victoria during the winter to the sharky waters of Northern New South Whales. The happiness that she got from surfing a wave quickly cured her shark phobia. It simply became part of the risk in doing something that she loved. Now the only question is; Will she ever live a life that doesn’t somehow involve surf?