I like to surf. I’d be surfing right now if there were any decent waves, but that will change. Soon the winds of fall will turn favorably offshore, northern swells will begin to hit regularly and in the Bay Area (and California in general) that means one thing to surfers: ideal surfing conditions! Fall is also the time of year when we see the highest concentration of great white sharks in our Red Triangle, which stretches from Bodega Bay, out to the Farallon Islands and down to Big Sur. What’s a surfer to do when the waves turn perfect and there is almost a constant stream of shark sightings, warnings and encounters?
Before answering the question I’ll remind you of some of the recent local shark incidents and encounters. In late August a 10-15 foot great white was spotted patrolling the waters off Stinson Beach, apparently attracted by a blood from a mortally wounded beached whale. Stinson was closed for five days. On Wednesday August 7 KTVU displayed pictures of a four foot great white spotted off of Crissy Field, less than a mile from one of my favorite surfing spots, Fort Point. On June 5 an estimated 12 footer grabbed hold of a kayak 100-200 yards off the popular surfing beach Linda Mar in Pacifica. And just yesterday in my office another surfer told me about recently being warned not to get in the water at Fort Cronkite by a surfer who had just gotten out after spotting a “large” shark. As bad as this all sounds it’s really not.
Statistics show that I’m in far greater danger driving home
from the beach than I am from shark attacks. That may have something to do with the Double-double I’m holding in
one hand, the French fries in the other and the knee I’m using to steer the car.
Hey, at least I'm not texting and driving: I don't want to get my cell phone
greasy. Before you comment on this blog you should know I’m kidding!
That being said we’ve all seen distracted drivers on the road, and they are far
more likely to do serious damage to us than any shark.
Sure there’s a lot more shark sightings and encounters in 2013 than when my older brother Bob let me borrow his board in 1979 for my first session out at Ocean Beach where he abandoned me on the inside to nearly drown. Sink or swim right? He and his friends paddled to the outside and I was left to deal with the shore break and rip currents which have claimed more than a few lives between now and then. At the time we didn’t know any better because we were literally the only people in the water. Head out to Ocean Beach any day this fall when the waves are even marginally good and the water will be packed.
There are exponentially more people in and around the water these days, many of whom are sporting cameras, which only increases the probability of shark encounters, sightings and online postings. The sharks have always been there. There’s also a lot more education, and we know there are certain times when we should either be extra cautious or avoid the water altogether. Surfers are mistaken for seals during the dawn and dusk hours, which unfortunately happen to be some of the best surfing hours. The dinner bell rings in the ocean around high tide, which also happens to be the best time to surf Linda Mar where the kayak was munched. I checked and that attack happened very close to the high tide. Great whites have been known to attack from below, in deeper water because their gray tops provide a natural camouflage, which is not to say they won’t come at their prey head-on.
Where am I going with all this? In times like these I’m reminded of the immortal words of Alfred E. Newman, “What me worry?” I’m not going to let fear of sharks keep me out of the water, but I will adjust behavior to give myself better odds. In the end I believe that’s what life is about anyway: give yourself the best opportunities and then go for it!