Sharks and other dangers while surfing

I’m sure that everyone has heard about the fatal shark attack in Solana Beach. Our condolences go out to the family of triathlete David Martin. As seen from all the news and press coverage, this is a tragedy that really taps into our primal fears as human beings. Obviously there is reason to be scared or nervous about being attacked by a shark, but this shouldn’t keep you out of the water, or keep you from enjoying your surf sessions.

Think how many millions of people were swimming in the water on the west coast last weekend, and think how many times David enjoyed his ocean swims over the many years of his life. Also, the last fatal shark attack in San Diego County was in 1994, but this was not a confirmed attack. Before that is was 1956.

I think it’s important to look at the big picture and realize how improbable it is to be attacked by a shark. However, we must acknowledge that the ocean is the shark’s home, and we are only visitors.

Here’s some more info from a recent online discussion of mine about these amazing creatures that we share the ocean with:

The question was, “It seems like there's been a lot of shark sightings reported on Surfline over the past couple of months. I don't ever remember hearing about so many. Is this a seasonal thing?”

I'll start with great whites. Traditionally, in southern cal shark (great white) activity is not very seasonal. In northern ca however, the time of the year when most great white sightings and attacks happen is in the fall. This corresponds to the time of they year when the elephant seals are on the beach or close to the coast. Great whites congregate to the coast to feed during this time of year.

In southern ca, it is possible that due to the extra cold water in the spring time and heavy grunion runs, that different types of sharks might tend to come closer to the coast during this time of year.

I think it also seems like there are more shark sightings because we have increased access to information. If there is a sighting or an attack...we will hear about it.

Now, enter global warming and increased animal protection.

Due to increased protection of seals and a ban on gillnetting in coastal waters, great white sightings have increased in the last several years. There are more great whites around. This is a good thing. I also truly believe that they are beginning to become familiar with humans in the water and know that humans/kayaks/surfboards do not make good food. Most attacks in the past have just been test bites anyway.

Southern California:
1. Due to global warming, we now have huge populations of Humboldt Squid off our coasts. This could be a source of food for the sharks that attracting more to the area.
2. The Southern California bite has recently been recognized as a great white birthing ground. Most of the juvenile great whites caught by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium for study have been off southern California. Maybe with more study they will find out if a specific time of year sees more great white shark births in our waters.

I too have seen the reports you are asking about.

Things to keep in mind:
1. Not all the sightings are great whites. We have many other types of sharks around that are relatively harmless. Lemon sharks, thresher, seven gill, mako, and of course the leopard shark. Not that these sharks aren't scary to think about, but they will not attack you thinking you are a seal. We've seen many of these while diving and most of the time they take off before you even have a chance to check them out.
2. People could be reporting dolphins.
3. We kill hundreds of makos and other sharks in our local waters each year for sport fishing. The sharks are the ones that should be afraid.
4. Think of the hundreds of people that are out surfing and swimming each day on our coast compared to how many attacks we see. Personally, I'm way more scared of the 405 fwy!

However, there are things I do to protect myself:
DO: Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes peeled. See a strange splash or a seal acting weird, just paddle in.

Don't: Surf or swim around large seal populations or large schools of baitfish and diving birds.

Know: If you're surfing by yourself at dusk, your chances are higher of having a shark encounter.
Know: Spots where sharks have been documented can be avoided if you want.

More common surfing dangers and things we should really watch out for while surfing:
  • Our boards. Probably the greatest danger is surfing is getting hit by a surfboard, either ours or some other surfer’s. It is important to always know where your board is. If you are paddling out and let go of your board due to a big wave, please make sure that nobody is around you. If you are taking off on a wave and do a nose dive (pearl), know that the board is most likely flying out of the water behind you and could land on your head. Hint: If I can’t feel the board pulling on my leash, indicating that the board might be close to you, I have my hands covering my.
  • The Bottom. The second greatest danger while surfing is hitting the bottom. You might hit the bottom on a wipeout, or put your feet down and cut them on a rock. Either way, hitting the bottom can be treacherous. Never dive off your board headfirst. Hint: Always assume the water is shallow. Whenever I fall I try to fall flat, and not touch the bottom to stand up. If you are at a beach break, you might put your foot down on a stingray, if you are at a point or reef break, you might cut your foot on a rock. Just fall flat and swim to your board.
Most importantly...just pay attention and have fun out there!!