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

McManmon says he's sick of what passes for excitement in the late Twentieth Century and thinks other people are, too. He believes they're prepared to pay good money to ride the Gulf Stream Falcon, and experience his company's assault on all things humdrum via multitudinous adventure sports: tamer ones such as sea kayaking and windsurfing and water skiing; intermediate ones such as ocean parasailing and blue marlin or sailfish angling from Jet Skis; wild ones like night diving with swarms of sharks.

"One thing we plan to do is anchor over the Islamorada Hump," he relates, referring to an underwater pinnacle two miles off the middle Keys where the ocean floor rises from 800 feet below sea level to a mere 270 feet. "We're going to use the shark cage like an elevator, run it down at night with plenty of chum. It'll be spectacular."

The telephone rings and McManmon spends twenty minutes telling a Yamaha dealer why it would be a good idea to donate several Jet Skis for use by clients on the Gulf Stream Falcon. As soon as he hangs up the receiver, a movie producer calls, part of a coolly inquisitive pack of money men now circling McManmon, trying to figure out if he's for real.

More than once people have told McManmon his life story sounds like a Hollywood movie. For two years before he went treasure hunting, McManmon started paying attention to that observation. He hung around the fringes of the Miami film industry, giving away his time and energy and trying to soak up knowledge and develop contacts. Now he and a close group of friends, many of them local production professionals, are nearing a start date for a docudrama based on the exploits of McManmon and his extreme-water-sports brotherhood.

The movie falls into the netherland between feature film and documentary, a sort of South Beach version of The Endless Summer, the 1966 surfer movie that examined and celebrated the Southern California subculture and became an instant cult classic. McManmon says he will spin off footage from the docudrama into a television series along the lines of MTV Extreme, an oddball participatory sports show aimed at twentysomethings. While some of his friends think he's spreading himself too thin, McManmon claims the movie project and the charter-boat adventure business will mesh perfectly.

The story line for McManmon's movie is unabashedly autobiographical. A coterie of happy-go-lucky water wackos engage in testosterone-drenched one-upmanship in the ocean. After a night of Herculean hell-raising on South Beach, they head for Bimini aboard the Gulf Stream Falcon for an escalating aqua-joust that involves spearfishing, wreck diving, trolling from Jet Skis, and finally bareback shark riding.

The film is designed to be driven by spectacular action footage and punctuated by puerilisms such as a massive public-access food fight along Washington Avenue. "All of this," a synopsis explains, "will be combined with rowdy parties and a virtual plethora of beautiful, near-perfect, bikini-clad women along for the ride."

A treatment -- a detailed outline -- has already been written, and a full-fledged script is on the way. McManmon says he's negotiating with several different investors, and has firm commitments from one TV distributor. He's not bothered by the fact that the movie absolutely requires him to offer an animal the size of a pickup truck the golden opportunity to eat him alive on camera. The climax vanishes without it. The plot falls apart.

When the money men materialize and McManmon's weird, sweet life finally moves toward celluloid glory, there will come a time too late for second thoughts. A day when, like an aquatic Evel Knievel, McManmon the daredevil will walk out on-stage in swim trunks, spurs, and a cowboy hat and do his thing, stomachaches, hangovers, and sound judgment be damned.

Somewhere offshore, perhaps in sight of South Beach, the great dead-eyed beast is waiting for his rendezvous with Ron.

"This is my shot to be the first man on the moon," McManmon insists. "Money or no money, it's something I've always wanted to do. I'm just surprised no one's done it before.

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