Shark Bait

Treasure hunter, diving extremist, and aspiring filmmaker Ron McManmon launches the ultimate party barge and introduces the gentleman's sport of shark riding

After a yearlong sojourn in San Francisco during the height of antiwar protests and the Summer of Love, and another in Las Vegas during the heyday of Mob control of Nevada casinos, the McManmons landed back in Asia. James McManmon was no longer rubbing shoulders with the CIA. Instead he had been invited to Rangoon to develop the international division of Union of Burma Airways. Ron found himself living in the palatial former home of a colonial British aristocrat, and spending weeks at a time on the Bay of Bengal at an isolated resort called Sandoway.

It was there that he first encountered the ocean. The only speck of civilization along miles of tropical beach and jungle was a primitive fishing village. Soon Ron was getting up hours before daybreak to paddle with fishermen in dugout canoes miles offshore. He built his first spear gun and spent hours diving on the reefs. His mother remembers having to hire one of the village fishermen to watch her son 24 hours a day. One of his first acts as a fledgling diver was to spear an eight-foot stingray, getting himself hydroplaned for what seemed like several minutes through coral and rock at breakneck speed. The villagers taught him how to hunt fowl in the jungle with a slingshot, and they gave him a leopard to raise as a pet.

In 1972 the McManmons resettled once again, this time in Katmandu, Nepal. Ron and a friend, Marty Turner, rebuilt an old Russian motorcycle and began roaming the Himalayan foothills and the Terai, or fertile plains, of the landlocked country. They also took to hanging out with wandering hordes of hash-smoking hippies at the Monkey Temple, the site of a commune that at one time boasted more than 10,000 members. Getting to the Monkey Temple involved a motorcycle sprint through an army of rhesus monkeys known for their fearsome willingness to bite.

"We attended many festivals and rituals such as the Shivaratri, an amazing sight with Shiva priests and tens of thousands of people attending to fulfill their pilgrimage," McManmon wrote to a friend. "They occupied an area called Pashupati for two weeks and, when over, it looked like what one might imagine Woodstock would look like if it lasted a decade. Animal sacrifices by the thousands, fire walking, body piercing, and a number of other bizarre occurrences."

At age fourteen McManmon led a 400-mile expedition up Gosankunda Mountain, one of the first non-native mountaineers to do so. When he came back down his parents had some bad news: Owing to the nonexistence of high schools in Nepal, he was going back to the States.

In short order McManmon dropped out of boarding school in Phoenix, and his mother enrolled him at Arizona Automotive Institute, a trade school. Somewhat surprisingly he emerged two years later with a perfect record of attendance, the awe of his teachers, and a specialty in diesel mechanics.

At seventeen, restless, McManmon joined the U.S. Marines, and so excelled during boot camp that his instructors recommended him for an elite unit responsible for the protection of diplomats and the security of sensitive weapons aboard Navy vessels. As part of this detail he received advanced Army Special Forces training in combat swimming, underwater demolitions, and jungle survival, and he led a season's worth of covert operations in the Philippines aimed at suppressing antigovernment guerrillas. Before mustering out of the Marines, he led the USS Oklahoma's pistol team and managed to earn a high school diploma and some college prerequisites, as well as to visit 23 countries.

"And then," McManmon recalls, "my life came to a screeching halt."
He got an aeronautics degree at Northrop University in Inglewood, California. He married, had a son, and soon wound up a single parent when the marriage broke up. He moved to Atlanta and worked for Mercedes-Benz as a troubleshooter.

"It was a nine-to-five job," he remembers. "I made a good living and got to drive a nice car. And something was missing."

At one point, traveling on business, McManmon discovered Florida. After a few return trips, he settled in Fort Lauderdale, then Miami. For several years he ran Team Divers, a successful scuba excursion company based at the Miami Beach Marina.

"He's done it several times," says Michael Aruta. "I believe it because I've seen it."

The first time was aboard an eight-foot nurse shark, approximately 400 pounds. A reef off Miami. Evening.

"I had noticed the shark lying on the bottom, about 60 feet down. The next thing I know, Ron's dropping down on top of him, like real fast. I guess he took him by surprise. He got the shark by the pectoral fins and wouldn't let go."

Given the fact that he was wearing an air tank, McManmon held on for about ten minutes. After a first flurry of surprise, the shark became docile. McManmon learned to guide the animal using its own fins.

On subsequent dives over the past few years, McManmon has mounted as many as a dozen nurse sharks and reef sharks and ridden them without incident. "Frankly," he shrugs, "it's gotten boring."

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