Growing up in the nether regions just east of Philadelphia, my summers were punctuated by day trips to "the shore." Throughout the endearing years of my youth, I loved the marshy sea smell, the cry of the gulls, and the salty taste of New Jersey's seaside Utopia. The laughter, waves, and water, along with the breezy sunshine made for a perfect afternoon. I'd run up to the foamy surf's edge, wade in, quickly dive down then pop back to the surface refreshed, alive, invigorated, and feeling at home.
The ocean and I were friends. I'd swim out further than anyone else, dog paddling until a found the perfect wave to ride back to the beach. My stomach would get all scratched up and I swallowed mouthfuls of ocean, but I turned around and rode wave after wave, bleeding more and more until, finally, exhaustion forced me to my towel, some Neosporin and nap in the sun.
My god, I must have been nuts!
In 1975, JAWS changed my relationship with the ocean forever. I'm sure I'm not alone on this, the film was the first of that new Hollywood breed: the summer blockbuster.
But there I was, bobbing up and down alone in the water, bleeding....juicy... and bright white? Arrrggghhhh! After the film's opening scene, I vowed "never again." Like so many Americans, sharks became not my enemy but an obsession. I ate up everything about the remarkable behemoths. I read that JAWS' infamous shark- hunter and yarn-spinner Quint was based on Montauk's notorious "monster" fisherman Frank Mundus. Mundus was a wild man full of the swagger, whiskey, and the sea. Sharks were his life, and the world's biggest would become his legacy.
In 1986 Frank Mundus and angler Donnie Braddock caught a 3, 427 lb great white off Montauk NY - a world record with a rod and reel. The man who "monster-fished" and been immortalize on the silver screen had really hooked my biggest fear. What a story!
In subsequent years, salty old Frank Mundus remarried and moved to Hawaii. Last summer he briefly returned to Montauk for the last time. He died of a heart attack immediately upon his return to the Islands. I was fortunate enough that he gave me what would amount to his final interview, and I'm happy to share it with you.
As the camera was being set up, we chatted. I ogled the shark's tooth, ivory-like, hanging from his neck, but he skirted that subject, making me promise to ask him about the future of the oceans on camera. He said he was concerned about overpopulation, the conversion from a "j-hook to a circle-hook," and future of marine and human life.
That day Frank Mundus reminded me that yes, he caught the big one, but I can jump back into the surf again because the monster fisherman reminded me that the scary ones are us.