Soaring Over Sharks

Our friends at Waterlust set out on a long-distance kiteboarding journey to the islands and sandbars surrounding Key Biscayne, FL.

Jennah Graham
May 2, 2017
in Travel

Patrick Rynne, Fiona Graham, Jennah Caster and Laura Graham are ocean scientists and adventurers at Waterlust (@WATERLUST), a purpose-driven company that travels the world to create films about water. 

Recognizing a shared passion for sea-based adventure, marine science, and a love for all things water, Sperry has partnered with WATERLUST to explore and embark on new sea-based adventures around the world in the new SPERRY 7 SEAS performance boat shoe.

On this adventure, the Waterlust crew set out on a long-distance kiteboarding journey to the islands and sandbars surrounding Key Biscayne, near Miami, FL. Watch the video below and read the story from Laura Graham, the Director of Apparel at Waterlust, below.

Kiteboarding in Miami

After plotting a course and reviewing our route, our kites were pumped up and our harnesses were tightly strapped on. I had never been kiting on a long journey before, but I got in the water and our crew prepped for our first downwinder.

We rode around in the buttery shallows for a while to build up confidence and to capture some early shots and photos (though it was mostly for the former, not the latter). At the outset, I felt connected to my board, to my kite, and to the adventure we were about to take – I was ready. But not long after we left the comforts of the sandbar, the ocean’s tides brought on waves much larger than I had anticipated, and I was instantly humbled.

Sperry x Waterlust Kiteboarding

The ocean suddenly felt much bigger; it became more powerful and more intimidating than it has appeared from the comforts of the sandbar that we had practiced on. In a few failed attempts to get up on the board, I swallowed water more than once, had to body drag with my kite to get my board back, and I had quite the inner monologue with myself throughout the experience, but managed to get back into my groove.

Letting go of my worries, I loosened up and my legs became less tense as I took on the waves more comfortably, embracing each wave without resistance. Once I was more comfortable and relaxed, I began to feel more in control, and after a few miles of riding we were about to round the lighthouse at the point of Key Biscayne.

Waterlust goes kiteboarding

My friend Brian zipped up to me and instructed that we ride close to each other so that the guys on the boat could get some shots of us riding around the lighthouse together (because sometimes you’ve just gotta do it for the ‘gram). We cruised closer to land, leaving the harsh waves off-coast in the distance, and the water became shallower, smoother, and easier to ride.

Following only a few meters behind Brian, I bubbled with pride thinking of the distance we’d traveled and my confidence grew as I kept up with Brian, who was more experienced that I was. I was genuinely stoked with my surroundings and by how awesome it felt to be able to do what we were doing. I was deep in a moment of reflection, when Brian yelled out and snapped me out of my daze.

I came back to reality abruptly as I heard Brian screaming and trying to get my attention. I looked forward at him and then followed to where he was pointing, not realizing that he had been pointing towards something that I should avoid. Dead in my path just a few meters in front of me was the biggest fin I had ever seen in real life, jutting out of the water. With the water being clear and fairly shallow, I could see the full outline of the reason for Brian’s shouting – a shark.

We had been cruising along fairly quickly, so by the time I saw the fin and realized what was directly in my path I had next to no time to react. My board hit the shark dead on in the back and fin, so directly and abruptly that it was if I just ran a ground.

I went flying forward and the big, strong tail of the shark thrashed up, hitting my board as I went diving forward. I tried to dive my kite erratically to get a burst of propulsion to somehow change my path, but the only thing that achieved was catching Brian’s kite lines and landing us both tangled up and unable to keep moving.

Everything happened so quickly I was surged with adrenaline and disbelief. If Brian hadn’t seen everything and wasn’t currently screaming, “you just hit the biggest shark ever!” I would have questioned whether it was real, or whether I was imagining the size of the shark.

Luckily, we were in shallow enough water that we could stand up, so we immediately tried to fix the problem I had just created. We instantly sprang into action trying to untangle our lines before they got worse, and lucky for us (not so much for the poor, unexpecting shark), the shark seemed to have swam away. Judging by the fact that his tail flailed in the air afterwards, my best guess is that he hadn’t seen me coming. The sudden crash of my board over his back seemed to be a strong enough signal for him to high tail it on out of there (pun entirely intended) and when I turned back, he was gone.

Brian and I were able to get untangled fairly quickly, though I’d be lying if I said we weren’t both constantly looking around us to see if the shark wanted to pay another visit. We both got back on our way in a few minutes, nervously shaking the rest of the way back to our destination.

Waterlust Kiteboarding

When we finally arrived at a stopping point I was still in disbelief. I took a break and recapped our friends, 2 of whom happened to have Master’s degrees in shark research, and Brian and I described what we saw. Fiona and Jenna tried to work out what kind of shark it could have been, and we were hopeful that we had captured it all on video, but of course, no luck. Our cameras had already run out of battery.

Without a photo, we can’t say with 100% certainty, but our best guesses would lead us to believe that I soared right over a Sandbar Shark or a Bull Shark. Regardless of the footage (or lack thereof) I think the memory will always remain for us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first downwinder!

Laura Graham

Jennah Graham

Jennah Graham is Director of Apparel for Waterlust, a purpose-driven brand that creates media to inspire scientific curiosity and sustainable products to support marine science research and education.

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