Sharkathon is the annual shark fishing tournament taking place on the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world: Padre Island National Seashore. Seven hundred anglers from all over the Gulf of Mexico region converge in this man-powered shore fishing competition, swimming or kayaking their massive baits out over a mile to then reel in 3-9 foot sharks from the shore, tag and release them.
A SHARK COWBOYS follows the chronological journey and different trajectories of anglers in each of the three main categories: Men’s First Place Shark, Women’s First Place Shark and Kid’s First Place. These anglers face challenges including financial hardships, storms, red tides, rip currents, broken lines, and a new rule outlawing the favorite shark catching tool: the J hook. Over the course of the year, SHARK COWBOYS also follows the story and movements of a male mako shark named Pico, through a tracking device implanted onto his dorsal fin. Pico illustrates the research made possible through the tracking devices implanted during Sharkathon.
SHARK COWBOYS begins with an introduction to our elite team of anglers competing for Men’s First Place Shark: Duke and Blayne. You cannot miss their camp when driving down the hours of undeveloped beach to mile marker 37. Duke and Blayne fish out of a retired military vehicle and base their headquarters in a huge PVC pipe and plastic dome tent. They’ve put together a support team of dedicated friends who are each assigned jobs such as bait fishing, cooking, or tending the campfire to ensure Duke and Blayne can focus solely on kayaking out bait and tending their reels. These close friends met in vet school at Texas A&M and their friendship was sealed when Duke, who grew up fishing on the coast, took Blayne on his first fishing trip to the Gulf of Mexico twenty years ago. They continue to bond over their passion for inventing better methods and instruments to successfully catch and release the largest sharks to win Sharkathon. While the two have consistently won first place shark over the years no one in the tournament’s history has ever caught a 10-foot shark during Sharkathon and collected the ultimate $30,000 prize. Duke and Blayne are determined that this will be their year to catch this prize shark but are faced with a new challenge: the favored J hook for shark fishing has now been outlawed and a circle hook will now be used.
Valerie Gallegos was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and learned how to fish when she learned how to crawl. For her family, fishing is tradition. She and her dad, brothers, aunts, and uncles have not missed a Sharkathon tournament since 2008. And when she introduced her fiancé (and now husband) to her father, it was at the 2009 Sharkathon tournament. Their two young sons, King and Max now compete in the kid’s division of the competition. She is a self-professed poor sport and consistently competes against herself to improve. She recently won her first trophy fishing in Babes on the Bay, a huge all-female off-shore fishing tournament in Rockport, Texas. A stark contrast to Duke and Blayne and their found family of focused anglers, the Gallegos fish while focusing on the conservation and time spent together as a family. And at night, they party. Valerie has yet to catch a shark during Sharkathon weekend and is determined that this will be her year.
Throughout the year we follow our anglers we see heartbreaks and triumphs. Our story begins with the stormy, windy Sharkathon 2018 tournament and Duke being lost at sea for four hours. When he fails to return within an hour and a half of kayaking out to set a bait Blayne calls the coast guard and makes a sobbing call to Duke’s dad letting it be known that Duke has failed to return to shore. After his kayak took on water and began to sink Duke abandoned the boat and made a two-mile swim back to shore finally showing up to his heartbroken crew.
SHARK COWBOYS not only explores a cross-section of economically and ethnically diverse Texans that converge for one grueling yearly tournament, it also focuses on conservation and the dire need for information that doesn’t currently exist. Our sharks are in trouble and 700 Texans step up annually in an attempt to help save them.
About the Filmmakers
Rachael Waxler • Director / Editor
Rachael Waxler is an award-winning Texas filmmaker and UT film graduate. Rachael cut her teeth working as a commercial and film editor in Los Angeles before returning home to Austin to continue editing and begin directing. Her directorial debut, the documentary, “Miss Snake Charmer,” has been enjoying a successful festival run opening the Sheridan WYO Film Festival in October 2018 and winning Best of Fest Documentary Feature at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in April 2019 and Best Documentary at the Austin Revolution Film Festival.
Kevin Ray • Director / Editor
Kevin was born and raised in Cleveland, Tennessee. He studied Film and Television at Savannah College of Art and Design. Upon finishing school, Kevin moved to Los Angeles where he worked in both Commercial Editorial and Narrative films. He has since moved to Austin, Texas where he works as an Editor at Union Editorial, while also pursuing independent film projects. He directed a feature documentary called, “The Great Journey” and also a narrative short, “Lawn” that played at the Austin Film Festival. He is a new dad, has a bunch of pets and spends most of his free time being a huge nerd.