When a shark chased forty-two-year-old trans nonbinary Bachul Koul to shore, Bachul was surfing with a fellow track team member.
“This guy was the Division III national champion mile runner,” Bachul says. “So his legs are pretty important. Not that other people’s legs aren’t, but his legs were special.”
Born in India, Bachul moved with their family to New Jersey when they were ten years old. When Bachul was nineteen, they were in Florida with their track teammates. One day, Bachul swam out with their national champion mile-running teammate, leaving their own board on the beach so they could push their teammate into the wave to help him with his timing.
When Bachul saw a shark twenty feet away, they didn’t want to panic their teammate.
“So I said, ‘Uh, let’s take a break and come back after lunch,’” Bachul recalls. “He said, ‘Really?’ Then he turned around to see a wave twenty feet behind him with the seven-foot shark inside it.”
Bachul pushed their teammate and his board so he could paddle in, then Bachul started swimming for shore.
“I remembered from Jaws not to do a lot of frenetic splashing,” Bachul says. “I slowly paddled backwards, keeping my eye on the shark. It kept going down into the water, getting closer every time it came up.
“Then it popped up ten feet away from me, and I turned around and swam for my life until I felt sand.”
Bachul stopped surfing for seven years after that. But Bachul says surfing is worth the danger. As a trans and plus-sized person, they feel freer in the water than on land.