Surfing with Tiger Sharks and T1D
I’ve always wanted to surf and recently got the chance in Maui. As soon as I managed to stand up and catch a wave, I thought, “Luke’s gotta try this.” Never mind that he’s 3, can’t swim, and had never been to the ocean before that week. He needs to get hooked on things that are pure joy and will make the grind of diabetes worthwhile. This had to be one of them!
And our instructor, M., was the man. 6’6″, incredibly patient, and able to hip-hop on the waves like a kid at a skateboard park, he had learned to surf by riding his dad’s board starting at 2. My ears perked up. “So we have a three-year-old who can’t swim…” I began. “No problem,” he said. “We can start with him sitting on my board – we’ll see what he likes.” (When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, he thought the locals were gods, “walking” over the water toward his boat. Had M. been part of that crowd, any women on Cook’s ship would have thrown themselves overboard immediately.)
We were back early the next morning, with grumpy toddler in tow. The logistics were a little challenging: how to take everything we needed for testing and low blood sugar into the water with us? Board shorts, LokSak bags (for BG meter and Dex), “Sugar Shots,” and a box of juice all came together. Board shorts should be standard D-wear: they hold everything! (And look really sexy when loaded up.) Luke wore his pump (BG goes high when he’s in the water, probably due to stress and excitement) and Dex, hopefully heading off the need to test for a couple hours.
M. took Luke on his board, and we headed out.
While Erik and I were shredding the waves…
Luke was having a blast with M. Before long, they went from splashing in the water to Luke riding on M’s shoulders to standing up (with help). The huge grin never left his face.
“We should head in closer to shore,” M. said. “There’s a shark.”
“Shark?” I yelped.
“Shhhhh,” he gestured, looking at surf classes spread out next to us. “Say mano.”
“Uh, so it’s a little one – a reef shark, right?” I asked helpfully, thinking of the small white-tipped reef shark I’d seen the other day whisking away like a cat.
“No, this is a big old one who gets hungry and comes in about once a month to feed on turtles.” Ah hah. The turtles we’d paddled out to watch yesterday – a few hundred yards away. And there we were, a bunch of haole flailing about on surfboards in murkey water while some cranky, near-sighted shark with low blood sugar was squinting about for a snack. “Catch the next wave in,” he said, “and we’ll meet over by that rock. The other surfers are safe – we should just be extra careful with your little one.” Our little pupu.
I stopped asking questions. Erik later told me it was a tiger shark, longer than our boards (12+ feet).
End of drama, really – but surfing isn’t so different from trying to balance on an ever-shifting tide of carbs, exercise, moods, hormones, and a million other factors. Leaving the hospital with Luke two years ago felt like trying to surf when we could barely dogpaddle. We kept sucking down saltwater, looking out for lurking low blood sugars and unexpected rocky highs, and falling over and over.
But since then we manage occasionally to stand up and ride, and in those moments even the sharks can’t stop us from having a damn fine time.