Overcoming shark fear in Happy New Caledonia
How do you spend your Saturday mornings? Cleaning? Sleeping in? Shopping for the week’s groceries? Or walk-dancing, happy-dancing (see below), speed-walking or windsurfing?
Of late, we’ve been spending our Saturday mornings watching our 7-year-old son windsurf with a great windsurfing school (Aloha Wind Surfing, who I’ve mentioned before). Pablo is the youngest and the smallest, and recently, perhaps the most concerned about sharks. Shark concern is not uncommon in children his age (or in adults of any age), but it has been exacerbated by an attack that occurred in Nouméa about 10 days ago, which left a 42-year-old kitesurfer with a 25 centimetre gash in his calf, alive, not kicking.
Unfortunately, the attack took place not too far away from where Pablo windsurfs at Anse Vata. His first time out after the attack, he was deeply concerned and did not feel comfortable windsurfing into deeper, darker waters (where he couldn’t see what was underneath his board). He came back crying, unable to continue. Though the instructor could see he was afraid, he wasn’t able to help him overcome his fear and frustration mounted on both sides.
This week, Pablo did not want to go back – and was adamant. His fear and trepidation was bigger than his capacity of manage “the worst that can happen – I’ll be attacked by a shark, but he’ll spit me out because I’m little and not very tasty”. Talking him down from the edge was no easy task.
When we got to his lesson, we explained to the staff at Aloha that Pablo was deeply afraid of sharks, which they had understood. As children are sensitive to raised voices and frustration, we suggested that maybe it would be best to avoid yelling. To the team’s immense credit, they suggested that maybe Pablo would like to go out in the boat today, and help the instructor. This suggestion brought a huge smile to Pablo’s face! They got him an oar, jokingly, so that he could swat any enemies, and got him laughing.
Suffice it to say, Pablo had a great time flying around in the boat, as he called it, rushing off at top speed with the “maitre” (instructor) to help other windsurfing students. He also went out with the maitre on a 2-metre sail and came back beaming. He did it! He’d gone out and there were no sharks. He’d had so much fun – and will be so much more likely to windsurf his next class. He then helped unscrew the bits on the boards and to clean up – involved in the behind-the-scenes work involved in windsurfing. Helping his other classmates, bringing their boards in, Pablo learned more than just windsurfing that day.
So, hats off to Aloha and hats off to New Caledonia, where even we can join the masses and be “Happy” along with Pharrell Williams, sharks and all!