First off, I want to thank The Coast News for inviting me home. It’s been a while and I have missed them and you, their readers.
My return column, however, does not concern the improving ability of surfers, their surfboards or even the waves they ride. It’s about sharks.
Sharks, which in the past were only on the radar in Southern California as a result of movies and paranoid nightmares, have since proven to be a real threat to ocean goers. And, while it is still more likely to be taken out by a car on your way to check the surf, those aggressive predators are being sighted in greater numbers than ever before. There are several theories as to why.
Some say the numbers of sharks has not increased in the past decade, but that sightings have because of the increasing numbers of ocean goers. Others say that decreasing numbers of tuna are driving sharks closer to shore in search of seals and stingrays. Still others believe that protecting seals and sea lions has increased their numbers and laid out a welcome mat for sharks.
I have only seen a predatory shark once in my over half century of surfing and spear fishing in the Pacific. I had that in mind in early April 2008.
I had promised to take a group of kids surfing. Problem is the surf was flat that day. Thinking they would enjoy some sort of alternate water activity, I invited them to join me in a paddle out to the kelp. Roughly halfway to that great seaweed forest I turned and noticed that the others were lagging far behind. I paddled back and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“We’re afraid of sharks,” one terrified-looking boy replied.
I laughed and said, “There are no sharks here; the last attack in this area was at La Jolla Cove in 1959.” They reluctantly continued paddling before sitting, uncomfortably for a moment, and then bolting back to shore.
The next day I retrieved a battery-driven plastic shark fin from my family’s swimming pool and took it to the beach. As a prank some friends and I ran the fake fin through the shallows at Cardiff Reef, laughing hysterically while stunned tourists warned their children to stay out of the water. I had been working for this paper at the time and emailed my editor the shark spoof for my weekly surf column.
Two days later I heard the blades of a helicopter, patrolling the beach, just beyond the windows of our Cardiff home. “There’s been a fatal shark attack,” came the ominous words from above. Turns out that a shark near Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach had killed a 66-year-old triathlete at 7 a.m.
My sympathies went out to the victim and his family before ricocheting back to me. “If my column runs they’ll think I was making fun of the tragedy!” I called the paper just in time to get the story pulled. Sharks, it turns out, are no laughing matter.