Creature Feature

 This past July 22, two paddleboarders a mile out at sea off Malibu were participating in the Tommy Zahn Memorial Paddleboard Race and had to literally hit and punch at a pursuing 14-foot great white shark to drive it away. Fortunately, they were not hurt.
On August 28, Todd Endris, 24, was surfing off Marina Beach, located in Central California’s Monterey Bay. Endris wasn’t as lucky as he was attacked by a 15-foot great white and suffered two horrendous bites that almost killed him. He survived, albeit with 200 staples and 500 stitches. The shark missed his pleural cavity by about a millimeter. Tear into that and he might have died. I take it back – he was lucky, really lucky.
With these recent, toothy close calls, it got me thinking about creepy sea creature encounters I’ve known and witnessed over the years. Probably the first real eye-opener I had with sharks was on a surfing and fishing trip out to Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara back in 1969. Halfway across the Santa Barbara Channel, my mouth was agape at all the visible sharks - blue sharks, hundreds of them, maybe thousands.
All these fins were breaking the surface in a huge area around our boat. It was astonishing to see. As we slowed down to an idle, this older brother of a friend decided he wanted to go freeboarding behind the boat, riding the wake on his surfboard while being pulled with a rope. Can you say… idiot? Plus the captain actually let him!
Of course, after his first fall he was hollering to get back in the boat. Later, a huge, brownish shark cruised right up along our port side. The girth on this thing blew my mind and while we were all staring it, this same genius grabs a spear gun and shoots it straight in the back! We screamed at him, “What are you doing, you *&%$@# moron!” The shark quickly swam off, easily ripping the tethered spear gun right out of our companion’s hand. While we stared at this jackass with disbelief, the shark slowly submerged, dragging the spear gun behind him.
I know three surfers who have had close encounters of the worst kind with sharks and they have all been along the Central California coast, from Big Sur up to Ano Nuevo, above Santa Cruz. Two guys survived. Lew Boren, a nice guy and skilled kneeboarder living on the Monterey Peninsula, didn’t. On December 19, 1981, he was surfing alone at Asilomar Beach on a big day, which was not that unusual for him.
It wasn’t until he didn’t show up for work the next day and people found his car still at the beach that the worry set in. His kneeboard was found with a huge, complete half-circular bite taken out of it and scientists estimated that a 23-foot great white shark struck him like a missile. His body was later recovered and showed evidence of a massive attack. Usually when sharks chomp surfers, they bite and release, because they discover we are not some tasty seal. This shark was such a monster that the bite was just too powerful and savage to possibly survive it. This was a terrible blow to the surfing community in Monterey but everyone was aware of the possible dangers. They are out there.
One time, while surfing at Lennox Head, in New South Wales, Australia, I noticed a large fin break the surface 20 feet out from me. It was a bit glary and there had been a number of dolphins in and around the break. Was that what I saw? It wasn’t until I turned back and saw the other dozen or so surfers paddling straight in to the beach that I realized this was not Flipper paying a visit, and I quickly followed suit.
It turned out that local fishermen had been after this particular bull shark for some time with no luck. He was the ultimate heavy local but not unique in his notoriety. I also visited Black Rock, a quality left-hand reef to the south near Jervis Bay on the same trip. Local Aborigine surfers told me about “Saucer Eyes,” a 20-foot white pointer seen frequently around the area. It was called Saucer Eyes because its eyes were as big as dinner plates. Picture that while you’re out sitting in the lineup.
Sharks aren’t the only critters to make their presence known as intimidating locals. A friend, Mike Cardoza, was surfing a lonely, central coast beach break when the surrounding water started to oddly swirl and then suddenly pour off around him as he was sitting on his board. Stunned with disbelief, he started to actually rise straight up out of the water and realized a juvenile gray whale was surfacing directly underneath him. He yelled out in panic as he fell off his board and slid backwards over the side of the whale. This startled the mammal and it quickly submerged while Mike was totally flipping out. It all made for a good laugh afterwards.
Moss Landing is a surf spot known for being respectful to the local surfers, or else.  I lived close enough to make friends with some of the good guys like Frank Ono and Jim Shearer and surfed the Landing on many a chilly, offshore morning.
One day, there were only a handful of us out when a large sea lion popped up close by and stared at us. Jim laughingly yelled at it to get out of  there, and the sea lion dropped under water and out of view. After a couple minutes, it resurfaced and we said, “Hey look, he’s back!” This time however, four or five others popped up next to it and immediately bared their big, nasty teeth and started barking at us. We all looked at each other incredulously as they started moving toward us with a loud, aggressive attitude. Damn, these pinipeds were actually ganging up on us and they proceeded to chase us out of the water. That was a first. This sea lion went and got his bad boys to go teach us human chumps a little lesson in respect and humility and they definitely did. We will always be the visitors out there and don’t you forget it. Be aware, be very aware.
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