Walter Szulc Jr. was kayaking about 50 yards off Nauset Beach in Orleans on Saturday when he noticed a man on a standup paddleboard pointing at something just behind him.
When he turned to look, it was every swimmer’s worst nightmare: a great white shark.
He said he could see the fin coming out of the water and the long shadow, but not the head. That’s because, he said, the head was underneath him.
What he does know is that he never looked back again. “It all happened so quick and I knew I had to react,” he said. “I had a deep swallow, that ‘Oh my God’ moment, then I just paddled.”
Szulc, 41, of Manchester, N.H., had never been in a kayak before that day, and he said he did not notice the commotion on the shore from beachgoers who had spotted the shark. That’s because he was looking for his two teenage children, wanting to showoff to them that he had finally figured out how to land on the beach without falling over in the waves.
The photo of Szulc being pursued by the long shadow has become an Internet sensation, and while he’s had a chance to reflect on it now, he said the chase – he estimates it lasted 60 to 90 seconds before the shark turned away – was all about reactions.
“I had my own little moment with God. I thought, ‘Is this it? Is this the way it’s going?’ All I could sense is that I should paddle, that I should put my part in here. I just knew that I didn’t want to end up in the water. And paddling-wise, I turned into a professional kayaker all of a sudden. I paddled like there was no tomorrow, like my life depended on it, and it’s quite possible that was the case.”
Just as he was approaching the wave break, the spot where he had already overturned several times that day, he said he saw the shark shadow turn away to the right. And, seconds later, he did tip, but he was in water shallow enough that he felt safe. Szulc said that he has always liked watching sharks on TV, but has no desire to get in the water with one again.
No shark activity has been observed in the Orleans area today, according to the harbormaster’s office.
Both spotter planes and patrol boats have been monitoring the area since the shark approached Szulc.
Although the waters are safe to swim in, beachgoers are encouraged to stay away from seals, which are a primary food source for sharks.