Here’s the thing about paddling with sharks. It’s really freaking scary.
That might sound obvious, but I had underestimated the scariness of said sharks until I found myself in a sea kayak paddling through a salty bay off the coast of Florida, mere feet from two sizable predators on a feeding frenzy. We’re talking about a couple of four-footers, fins exposed going to town on a school of fish about 10 feet from my boat. It was like Shark Week.
After they finished their snack, they turned and started swimming for my boat. Suddenly, the kayak felt really, really small. And tippy.
Because this isn’t a Shark Week episode, the sharks quickly realized my plastic tube wasn’t food, and swam away. Still, the rest of the day, I paddled with one eye on the water surrounding me, looking for dorsal fins. Every mullet that jumped was a great white. It was an incredible experience, but one that had my nerves frazzled.
As soon as I docked the boat, I headed straight to the bar for medicine. Luckily, I was in Florida, where it’s always summer and there’s always a rum punch being served in a plastic cup. Rum punch is a glorious thing after a shark encounter. Any doctor will tell you this.
Florida is also the land of Cigar City Brewing, one of the Southeast’s most well-respected breweries. Cigar City is super famous for their Hanahpu, an imperial stout that’s so damned good, it practically causes riots on its release day. Seriously, there was so much mischievous behavior from the massive crowd at last year’s Hanahpu release, Cigar City had to offer refunds and considered canceling the release party altogether.
They also do a killer IPA, called Jai Alai, which is that weird game featured briefly at the beginning sequence of Miami Vice. Know what I’m talking about? This is the beer I moved to after I got bored with the rum punch. Jai Alai (the beer, not the game) packs a wallop of juicy citrus, and comes across as more tangy than bitter. It’s one of Cigar City’s year-round beers, and if you live in Georgia or Virginia, you should seek it out at your favorite bottle shop.
I had a few Jai Alai’s that day, sitting at the bar in Florida, recounting my shark encounter over and over to anyone who would listen. Yes, the sharks got bigger every time I told the story. And more numerous. And more ferocious. But that’s the natural evolution of shark stories, right?