Shark Man (#13) Guinea Pig

We must have been a funny sight—me carrying a surfboard above my head and Sonny cradling one under his arm while holding a dog leash with the other.

“Is Mae Beth around?” I asked, as Sonny unlocked the door to the surf shop.

“No, she’s off visiting relatives with her mom. That’s why I have Candy.”

After he turned on the lights and unleashed Candy so she could run around the workshop, Sonny got down to business, clearing off two sawhorses to make room for my board.

“Well, how short shall we make it, Billy-Boy?” Sonny asked, looking me up and down.

“I don’t know.”

“Here, stand against the wall,” Sonny ordered.

Then he grabbed my board and stood it next to me. He stepped back and looked at me, then at my board, then at me again. Taking a marker, he drew a line across my board about a foot above my head.

“There,” he said finally, “that ought to do it.”

“Isn’t it going to be a bit short?” I said, looking at the line he had drawn.

“Look, here’s how it works,” Sonny said. “The longer the board, the more stable it is. The shorter the board, the more responsive it is. That’s the trade-off: speed versus stability. Which one do you want?”

“Well, I don’t want what I have because I can hardly carry it, not to mention ride it.”

“That’s what I thought,” Sonny replied. “Now, enough talk, time to get to work.”

I sat in a chair holding Candy and watched as Sonny hacked off the front end of my board. After he finished, he started to pull away the fiberglass from the sawed-off end. But the more he pulled, the more the fiberglass gave way, until most of it had been stripped off the board.

“Hmmm,” Sonny muttered, as he ripped off the rest of the fiberglass, “looks like it’s not going to be as simple as I thought.”

After he removed the skeg on the bottom, the board was nothing but foam core.

“Cool,” I said, stroking the top of Candy’s head.

As Sonny shaped the board with a large file, the foam core got shorter and shorter.

“Are you sure it’s not gong to be too short?”

“No,” Sonny replied, laying a sheet of fiberglass over the top of the board. “But then what’s the difference between a skateboard and a surfboard anyway?”

“Hmmm, never thought about it that way.”

Sonny looked up and smiled, then he returned to reshaping my board. After awhile he said, “Tim told me you’re pretty good on a skateboard. Great balance. Natural instincts. Is that right?”

“Well, yeah, I really like skateboarding, but surfing…”

“Surfing isn’t that much different. The only difference is that the ground moves, but it’s a whole lot softer when you fall.”

I laughed. At the same time I thought: It may be softer, but at least you don’t have to worry about what’s swimming around beneath you.

“Sonny,” I said after a while, “not to change the subject, but how much is this going to cost me?”

“Cost you?” Sonny chuckled. “Not a thing.”


“That’s right, let’s just say you’re my guinea pig.”

“Guinea pig?” I gulped.

“Yeah, ain’t nobody going to have a board as small as yours,” Sonny chuckled, reaching for a can of resin and a large paintbrush.

“Look, this is going to take some time to finish,” Sonny said, as he mixed the resin, “and I’ve got to open the store soon. How about you come back tomorrow? I should be finished by then.”

“Sure,” I replied, setting Candy on the floor.

I could hardly eat dinner that night I was so excited.

“What’s gotten into you?” Mom asked.

“Sonny’s reshaping my surfboard,” I answered.

“What’s it going to look like,” Diane smirked, “a French Poodle?”

I glared at Diane, then shot Sue the evil eye as she began to snicker.

“Okay, girls, knock it off,” Mom said.

“No, really,” I continued, “Sonny knows what he’s doing, and he promised that I’d have a surfboard unlike anyone else’s on the beach.”

Sue doubled over laughing as Diane began barking, pretending she was a French Poodle.

“Enough, girls,” Mom threatened.

After dinner, I retreated to my room and leafed through some of the surfing magazines that Tim had loaned me until I fell asleep.

That night I dreamt that a hurricane slammed into south Florida. The wind howled. The windows rattled. The house shook. Tim and I tried to go surfing, but the undertow was too strong. So we took our boards and walked to the end of the pier.

“You jump first,” Tim said, shielding his eyes from the spray.

“No, you jump first,” I replied, holding onto my board with both hands.

“No, I think you should jump first,” Tim repeated.

I turned and climbed up to the top railing of the pier. After Tim handed me my surfboard, I raised it above my head, then threw it into the water below. After my board landed in the churning froth, I took a deep breath and jumped. But as soon as I jumped, a large man-eating shark with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth broke the surface of the water and glared at me with red, fiendish eyes.

I tried to scream, but nothing came out. The only sound in my head was the deep, dark voice of my stepfather who growled over and over again, Shark!…Shark!…Shark!

Again, I tried to scream, but nothing came out. I was paralyzed, paralyzed by fear. Fear of the water. Fear of sharks. Fear of my stepfather.

When I finally slammed into the water, the image of the shark shattered into a million pieces, and I awoke with a start.

“Bill? Is that you?” Mom called from the kitchen.

I threw on some clothes and joined her. Mom was always the first one up, even on weekends.

“Good morning,” she said, as I pushed the kitchen door open.

“Morning,” I echoed, rubbing my eyes. “Can I go over to Sonny’s after breakfast to see how my surfboard’s coming along?”

“Sure,” Mom answered, “but watch the weather. A hurricane’s hovering off the coast of Haiti and could turn toward us at a moment’s notice.”

“I will,” I said, measuring out a bowl of cereal.

After breakfast, I headed to Sonny’s, getting there just as he was opening the store.

“Hi, Sonny,” I blurted as he rolled up the front shade.

“Well, Billy-Boy, how’s it going?”

“Okay,” I said. “Ah, you wouldn’t happen to have something for me.”

“Something for you?” Sonny mused. “I wonder what that would be?”

“My surfboard!” I exclaimed, unable to contain myself.

“Oh, your surfboard?” Sonny chuckled. “Follow me.”

We walked to the back of the store and ducked through the curtain of beads. There lying across a couple of sawhorses was the most beautiful surfboard I had ever seen. It was snow white with two thin black stripes running down either side. The nose rose slightly to a point. The other end was gently rounded and sported three skews.

“Three skegs!” I exclaimed.

“Well, yeah. As I worked on it, I realized that one just wasn’t going to be enough, so I added two more.”
“I’ll be the laughing stock of the beach,” I cried.

“Well, maybe, unless you ride the waves like nobody else. Look, remember those sharks you saw on the beach earlier in the summer?”


“How many fins did they have? Two…three…four…? In other words, they didn’t have just one,” Sonny continued. “They had several. Some for mobility. Others for stability.”

“So they can move fast,” I replied, trying to fathom Sonny’s reasoning, “but always be in control.”

“Bingo!” Sonny replied, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a jumble of leather on the far end of the board.

“Oh, that’s Candy’s leash. I’ve been looking for that all morning.”

“Leash?” I mused, thinking about how Candy tugged at her leash yesterday trying to get away, but couldn’t.

“Sonny, do you think I could borrow Candy’s leash?”

“Why, did you get a dog recently?”

“No, I got a new surfboard and it needs a leash.”

“A leash?” Sonny stammered, looking at me strangely.

“Yeah, you know how I told you that my surfboard always gets caught in the break and tumbles all the way to shore.”

“Yeah, and….?”

“Well, if I tied one end of the leash to the surfboard and the other around my ankle, then I wouldn’t have that problem, would I?”

“Weird,” Sonny mumbled. “Really weird.”

“Not any weirder than a surfboard with three skews.”

“Well, you are my guinea pig,” Sonny replied. “Okay, take off your sandal.”

After I kicked off my shoe, Sonny slipped the loop end of Candy’s leash over my foot.

“Perfect,” he said, looking at the leash dangling from my ankle. Then he slipped the leash off of my foot and walked over to his workbench and grabbed an electric drill.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, not sure what I had gotten myself into.

“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing—I think.”

As I steadied the board, Sonny drilled a hole through the base of the large skeg nestled between the two smaller ones. When he finished, Sonny picked up the end of Candy’s leash and threaded it through the hole. Then he tied it in place with a double knot.

“There, now you’ll be the only person in the world who can walk his surfboard the way other people walk their dogs.”

I must have thanked Sonny a dozen times as I picked up my surfboard and headed to the beach. But when I got there, I froze. There were several surfers in the water, and several more getting ready to go in. Everyone was excited. The hurricane off Haiti had already pushed four- and five-foot waves our way.

But looking at the surfers, then at my board with three skegs and Candy’s leash tied to it, I got cold feet and went home.


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