Sunday, October 1

The Man In The Grey Suit

People (such as me) will often say that your chance of being killed by a shark is very low (lower than the odds of getting killed by bees, for example). However, as my housemate Jay pointed out to me, most people don't make a habit of night surfing alone in the so-called Red Triangle - a zone centered around the Farallon Islands where about half of the world's great white shark attacks have occurred.

Although it can be spooky, the night sufing doesn't worry me so much. Great whites hunt by day using vision (they look for seal shaped silhouettes on the surface - which is somewhat unfortunate because, from below, surfboards can resemble seals). Apart the opening scene from Jaws, there is one recorded night-time great white attack. (Of course, that is largely explained by the lack of humans in the water at night - but I'm sticking with my day time feeding theory.)

Rather than night surfing, it is surfing at Waddell Creek that I find scary. Waddell Creek is right by the Ano Nuevo seal colony and has had a handful of attacks over the years. I surfed there last Saturday. I was surfing about 50 yards north of the parking lot, sitting in a crowd of about 8 surfers when three large seals suddenly leapt out of the water directly in front of us. I was thinking to myself: 'Is that ordinary seal behavior?' The next Tuesday, the following report was filed on Surfline:

Shark Alert: On September 26, 2006 ‘Doc’ Rivera was filming his friend, ‘Beak’ and another unidentified surfer on a longboard, from the beach at Waddell Creek about 50 yards north of ‘The Warden’ sign at the North end of the parking lot. It was 11:30 AM and ‘Beak’ had been in the water about one hour. There was an overcast sky and a brisk wind. Air and water temperatures were in the low 60s and 50s Fahrenheit respectively. The ocean floor was primarily sand and 3 – 5 feet deep with a 3 – 5 foot shore break. . . . . Rivera recalled; “’Beak’ had just taken a wave on a larger set, the ocean/waves had just gone slack, when the back of a large White Shark appeared at the surface chasing a seal. The shark’s tail sprayed and splashed water as it chased the seal through the shallows. Its dorsal fin was 16 – 20 inches high with the shark a dark grey and 13 – 14 feet in length. I was amazed at the amount of water the shark displaced while chasing the seal. This lasted about 10 – 15 seconds. ‘Beak’ got out of the water and 20 – 30 seconds later a second seal, larger than the first, hurled itself through the air near the longboarder. The seal surfaced next to the longboarder as if it was huddling up next to him half in and out of the water. The longboarder was outside in the flatspell post the set. The longboarder then promptly left the water on the next wave set. His words upon leaving the water were; ‘That was @#$&ING Scary!!!!!!’ ‘Beak’ and I returned about 2 hours later to see another seal around county line swimming and jumping erratically toward the beach (very odd behavior) this went on for about a minute then the seal was gone. The birds were outside feasting on an obvious oily slick that was not a bait ball.”

So, that was the exact same spot three days later. I probably won't be surfing Waddell Creek very often; as Surfline explains, it's an "Industrial Strength" surfspot and I got totally hammered there. I'll head back if it it's nearly flat here in Santa Cruz though. It's a beautiful beach.


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