Sharks are one of the most misunderstood creatures, especially when it comes to their relationship with humans. They're big, intimidating, unpredictable, and have several rows of razer sharp teeth. But same characteristics that make them scary also make them fascinating.
Each time we paddle out we face the possibility of encountering one. For some surfers, this has little to no effect on them, and for others it excites them, or keeps them out of the water completely.
Surfing's power couple, Alana Blanchard and Jack Freestone, have spent more time in the ocean than most, and they have their own degrees of fear and anxiety surrounding sharks. Just this past week they decided to face their fears and swim with sharks off the coast of Oahu.
"I've always had a bit of anxiety with surfing and always thinking about sharks. It's been 17 years almost to the day that my best friend [Bethany Hamilton] got attacked and her arm got taken. So it's pretty crazy that we had this experience where this tiger shark at the end of our tour just came and checked us out," Blanchard described.
Despite going into the dive with a mix of emotions, Blanchard and Freestone came out of the experience beaming with excitement and a newfound appreciation for sharks. They swam with local diving company, One Ocean Diving, who taught them the importance of sharks as regulators of the food chain, as well as many misconceptions associated with them.
At the end of their dive, Blanchard shared an special moment with Riley, an 11-foot male tiger shark, and the only male the diving company has seen in 20 years.
"I made eye contact with him and it was almost like a message. I was looking at him and he was looking at me. [I realized] they're not out to get us, this is their home and we're in it."
With their new understanding of sharks, it will be interesting to see if Freestone and Blanchard approach their careers as professional surfers any differently when the Tour gets underway.
Freestone is gearing up for the season kick off at Pipe in December, and we're hoping to see another wildcard appearance from Blanchard at Honolua Bay. In 2018, she played a major role in shaking up the title race after eliminating Lakey Peterson early in the event. And last year, Peterson got redemption, eliminating Blanchard at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal.