Tiger shark approaches swimmer on record swim



Marathon swimmer Meredith Novack became the fastest person to swim both ways across the Auau Channel between the Hawaiian Islands of Lanai and Maui, and it wasn’t because a tiger shark trailed dangerously close behind her for brief moments.

No, she didn’t even know the shark was there. But her support team sure did.

Novack, without the fanfare that accompanied Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida but with quite a bit more drama, swam 20 miles round-trip in 11 hours, 1 minute on Sunday to break the current record of 11:45 set by Peter Attia in 2008, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

tiger shark photo by Albert Kok wikimedia commons
Generic photo of a tiger shark by Albert Kok/Wikimedia Commons

Unbeknownst to her until after setting the record, Novack was in the company of a tiger shark at two points during the second half of her swim. They were not sure whether it was the same shark, but the second one, the one that caused the most frayed nerves, was an estimated 15 feet long.

Novack was not halfway on the way back to Lanai when the first shark swam onto the scene, first noticed by Jenn Noonkester who was in a kayak next to Novack. The kayak was equipped with a Shark Shield designed to repel sharks with an electric shock from a three-foot wire that trailed in the water.

Noonkester alerted the support team in the accompanying fishing boat by making the international signal for shark—a flat hand held vertically on the forehead.

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“She made a signal, but when she started to make the signal, I breathed on that side and I saw her moving her hand,” Novack explained to GrindTV Outdoor in a phone interview. “She saw me see her and started cheering, giving me the OK sign. I thought, ‘OK, they’re cheering,’ and I kept going.”

Noonkester made the signal again, but the shark left the area.

The more harrowing encounter occurred about 1 1/2 hours from the end of the swim. During a break to feed Novack, Bill Goding, who had been in the kayak, was going to change places with Noonkester. When he jumped out of the kayak, he nearly jumped on the shark. Simultaneously, Noonkester climbed onto the kayak.

“It was a few feet away from [Goding],” Novack explained. “So he freaked and scrambled to get back onto the kayak, which was crazy because we have a one-person kayak. At this point, I had just started swimming again.”

For support, Dan Worden was also swimming next to Novack because she had insisted somebody join her because a change in water color made her nervous.

Meanwhile, Goding made a mad dash to the boat less than 20 yards away as the support crew on the boat grabbed a bang stick and spear gun, and wondered what the shark was going to do. The support team hoped the shark repellent with its 10-foot radius would protect the swimmers five feet away, and they discussed whether to tell Novack or not. What happened next was so fast, the team had no time to react.


“A couple seconds later the shark went a few feet behind the boat and then went at the kayak,” Novack said. “It came within a foot or two of the kayak and then it got hit by the Shark Shield.”

Zapped by the electronic charge, the 15-foot tiger shark swam away.

“It was a very dangerous and tense moment that I was completely unaware of,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t know. It most likely would’ve ended the swim and that was a decision they also talked about.

“I can’t describe how lucky we are because for it to come within around two feet, that’s really close. I don’t even know what to say. I’m so thankful it worked.”

As for the record, Novack was ecstatic and didn’t want the day to end. It was truly a dream come true in what could have been a horrible nightmare.

Photos of record swim by and courtesy of Angel King Productions

Meredith Novack nears end of record swim over sharp coral in shallow water of Lanai with Christa Funk giving support from kayak.

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