KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ever since she moved to Hawaii Island from Mexico nearly two years ago, Alexis Iacuzzo says she's been hoping -- unlike most others probably would -- to encounter a tiger shark in the open ocean.
"I love sharks," Iacuzzo told Hawaii News Now on Thursday. "I get super excited when I see one."
Iacuzzo, who studied marine biology in college but has since sought work in another field, goes stand-up paddleboarding in Honokohau Harbor several times a week.
Tuesday morning, she and Danielle Parham grabbed their boards and headed for waters just outside the harbor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the humpback whales that sometimes frequent the area.
"We went out for about an hour and a half, we swam with dolphins the first part," said Iacuzzo. "We actually came back in looking for a monk seal that had been seen in the harbor the day before."
"We heard a fisherman yell out, 'There's a tiger shark!'" Iacuzzo said. "There was instantly excitement and fear. I've always wondered how I would react. He was bigger than my board."
After she and Parham spotted the animal, Iacuzzo said the shark made several passes near her board while she sat on top of it. It never made contact with her board, but after the shark's third pass -- nearly twenty minutes after he was first spotted -- Iacuzzo wondered whether he was getting a little too curious.
"So that's when I paddled," she said. "When I put my paddle in the water, he backed off."
For the estimated 51 percent of Americans who say they're scared of sharks, the run-in would probably have been terrifying, but Iacuzzo's encounter will be remembered much differently.
"It was the most amazing experience of my life," she said. "My body was shaking. It was amazing."