I Am Annoyingly Risk-Averse These Days - What's The Biggest Risk You've Ever Taken?

IHTM: My boyfriend almost got eaten by a shark. Sort of.

Oct 21, 2013 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Walking the Jagger Path along the Fish Hoek bay, prior to shark excitement.

I'm not much of a risk taker in the traditional sense. When I say traditional, I mean I have never jumped out of a plane. I've never bungee-jumped, letting an elastic cord jerk me away from the ground. I'm not one for climbing up mountains. Any water that looks a little too dark won't be hosting my swimming.

I don't like being in a car that's driving too fast. When I was learning how to drive, part of the reason I gave up was because I couldn't deal with the fact that I was in control of 4,000 pounds of metal and was expected to drive it fast enough to at least kill a squirrel on impact. As you may know, I consider every time I set foot on an aeroplane as a massive risk, so I have to take enough to tranquillisers to knock out a rhino to get through it.

In other ways though, I have certainly taken risks - I've smoked cigarettes, I've taken drugs, I've drunk to excess. I've walked home alone, late at night. I've given my telephone number to shady characters. I've slept with a couple.

Now that my life is a whole lot more pedestrian than it used to be - buying god-knows-what from a man on the street, keeping two coloured and stamped tablets wrapped tightly together in clingfilm under his tongue, is but a distant memory - I seem to have become completely risk-averse. Getting me out of my comfort zone, that cosy, blanket of safe and sofa and TV and rest, is a whole lot harder. But sometimes, it pays off.

Last year, my boyfriend and I were on a trip to South Africa (TEN HOURS ON A PLANE, PEOPLE) when we drove from our rental apartment in Cape Town to the little coastal town of Fish Hoek. Prior to this, I'd spent days poring over the travel guide we'd bought with us, the pages dog eared and sticky with spilt ice lollies that cooled us down in the heat. I'd read that this area was particularly renowned for shark sightings- and we aren't talking little harmless gummy sharks. We're talking big, hungry Great Whites with rows of serrated teeth, ready to tear through flesh. Now, I'm kind of obsessed with sharks. I feel they should be respected - when we're in the water, we're in their territory. We're fair game. 

I'd been cautious about going into the water back in Cape Town, but luckily the water was so freezing cold that we steamed as we came out of the surf, meaning I didn't really fancy heading in for a dip very often. When I did, I ran in, rolled about for a few seconds and then legged it straight back to my towel to dry off. Chris was more game for a proper swim, but the huge waves meant he wasn't able to, much to my relief.

We arrived in Fish Hoek a little after midday, the sunshine beating down on us. The beach is almost a mile long, the bay more protected from the crashing surf than the rest of the area. Children paddled and parents kept a watchful eye on them as the lifeguards sat above, watching the water with binoculars.

There's a path littered with colourfully painted benches that runs past rock pools on the southern side of the bay, the big, smooth rocks proving popular for sunbathing. We walked out as far along the path as we could go, working up a sweat in the process. After a while, we found a rock that was wide and flat enough for us to lay down on and enjoy the heat, the icy water lapping up around us as we dangled our toes in.

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"I think I'll swim back to the beach," Chris posited. "I'm boiling, I could do with cooling off."

"No WAY." I almost shouted. "There are bloody sharks about. No way." The water did seem very inviting, though, after the sun had been baking our skin for an hour or so.

"You are obsessed with sharks! It's fine, mate. There aren't any here. the shark flag is green. It's fine." He pointed to the beach, where the green flag with the black outline of a Great White flapped about on the breeze, clearly visible.

"Please, just walk back with me. It'll be nice." I picked up my bag and jumped over the rock pools (in a very ungainly fashion, of course) and back onto the safety of the path. "Come on."

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Desperate to swim back to shore.

Chris gave in, although not happy he'd been persuaded against a refreshing swim back to shore, and we trotted along back towards the beach.

A couple of minutes later, a shrill siren pierced the air, and we could make out parents running to children and gathering them up before running from the beach onto the grassy verge beyond. A line of people, all staring out into the water as the siren continued to rip through the breeze urgently, and the green flag being pulled down and replaced with a white one, the black outline of the shark all the more menacing.

 "There's a Whitey! Go!" yelled a shark spotter along the path, to his friend who was sunbathing on one of the rocks along the path, as we had done a few minutes ago. "Back to the beach!"

I was thoroughly loving the excitement, taking my camera and attempting to capture a fin or even a shadow beneath the water, while Chris went a little pale. The realisation that he could have been there, in that water, with a Great White, was terrifying - but punctured with the relief that he wasn't. We shivered, hot as we were.

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Serious shit, man.

 The rest of the trip, Chris was a little more accepting that there were real dangers out there in the water. We weren't in Brighton any more, with the only dangers being an unsavoury encounter with some rubbish or maybe sewage. We were somewhere that meant we had to be careful. Naturally, I loved it. I took every opportunity to remind him that he could have been eaten by a shark. My smug "See, I was right! We can't take risks!" actually began to annoy even me in the end. 

Are you a risk taker? If the shark flag was green, would you have swum back to shore, or would you have stuck to the path like me? What's the biggest risk you've ever taken? I think the biggest risk I've taken in the last few years is eating eggs that were about three days out of date. YOLO!

Natalie's watching shark attacks on YouTube while tweeting: @Natalie_KateM