Sunrise, Pacific Ocean. The pink hint of dawn expands away from the black and hilly eastern horizon. The ocean is 49 degrees and glassy as the December sky slowly begins to transmute: black, purple, pink, amber, and eventually, an hour later, a magnificent clear blue sky.
Light above, strong swell, calm, vibrations far west…coming this way, must eat. Shallow up, head towards the light, and towards shore.
Two miles west, a small pod of California Sea Lions are weaving their way towards the rookery. They have been feeding all night many miles off the coast. Warily, their evasive dash becomes more frenetic, and random.
A couple miles to go, deep below, dark….speed up, death below….
Silently the hunter glides shoreward. Poetry and death combined; a perfect, malevolent machine. Efficiently, it moves to within a quarter mile of shore and begins to patrol northward, and southward. Sensing, waiting, watching, and feeling. It uses its lateral line to detect approaching vibration sources, and uses it’s ampullae of lorenzini to pinpoint a food source’s tiny electrical field emissions and therefore, its location.
Still calm above, rocky bottom, hungry….vibrations stronger, surging waves, kelp forest. Good, food smells stronger here. The rookery must be close.
Two miles inland, a surfer winds his way down the coastal range solo. The Microbus tips away from the turns. The surfer straining to see the ocean out the side window and curtains. The fog thins….the surfer is hoping against hope, the wind, the tide, and the swell that they all combine to…
LINES! Glassy and stacked up to the horizon. This is going to be a sweet day. Woohoo!
Reel Big Fish rocks the early morning quiet as the surfer cruises by. The surfer turns south once he stops at the junction of Hwy 1 and Route 46. A couple miles south there is a nice, dusty, dirt parking area off the road to the right. The barbed wire fence keeps surfers and regular people, from taking a closer look without leaving the shelter of their cars. The lot overlooks several breaks, and it is a relatively short hike down to one little rocky left point. The air is a moist fifty two degrees, the result is a bundled up surfer. A five mil wetsuit will be required today.
No cars! Sweet, I’m going to have it all to myself. All you can eat surfing. I should call “Frow”, naw, more for me…
To the west, the pace has quickened again for the sea lions. The pinnipeds know they are entering the danger zone. Fear grips them. Below, they know huge, heartless killers lurk with the speed and agility to intercept and dismember them, if left to their own devices. The unseen attack, gaping jaws, rows of two inch long razors, and an appetite for sea lion. The sea lions sense the danger below. The sea lions twist and roll, undulating up and down, left and right to throw off any unseen attacker’s intercept solutions, and to view their surroundings as often as they can. Always headed to shore.
Vibrations getting stronger, they come closer. 50 feet depth now, kelp, rocks, still dark down here. No big movements, glide towards the vibrations, splashing….
Frothy!!! Can’t get into my wetsuit quick enough, all to myself! Its perfect, and glassy…..and all alone.
The weaving pattern is more erratic, faster, adrenaline coursing through veins, 20 knots and accelerating, weaving. The sea lions never maintaining the same course for longer than a few seconds, the sea lion version of an evasive pattern.
Up, down, left turn, right turn, down….deeper, up….breath…..down, deeper, tight, left, what….movement to the right, a shadow. Faster now….go faster, turn. rotate towards surface, check behind…..something behind me. another sea lion …..get pointed towards shore. Go, Go, Go
The water feels cold to the surfer, 6 mil booties, 5 mil wetsuit, gloves and a hood. He quickly slips into the glassy blackness. And deftly paddles to seaward. A couple of duck dives later and he’s at his favorite spot, alone, stoked, waiting. He’s about 50 to 60 yards offshore in 15 to 20 feet of water, he takes in the calm. Darkness below, it’s a solid 6 feet and glassy, pealing left barrels. He won’t have to wait long…
Whew, low fifties….glad I brought the 5 mil, here comes a set, let the first few go by, ‘cause as Gerry says, “Never take the first wave of a set!”….Check it out, the water is so clear….it’s got to be 30+ feet visibility. First wave, second one’s bigger, second wave, yep, there it is….third wave. Bigger still, here we go, turn back to shore…what’s that?
The surfer had caught movement out to his right just as he turned for shore, he froze and tried to reacquire the source of movement…..the clear water had allowed the surfer to see….what? It was headed right for him.
Almost there, just a little while longer, safe to breath now, up, Up! rocks and kelp below should hide me…turn, up, breath….
Here they come, vibrations strong. Stay low, nose to the prey, pick it up, faster….good, rocky bottom and kelp….good cover, there they are! Prey near the surface, get in position…lead them, NOW EXPLODE! Up, Up, Up!
With a dozen side to side powerful strokes, each shorter in duration than the last, the beast imparts “up bubble” to its pectoral fins and rises like a jet fighter going flat out, more than a ton of fish accelerating from 3 knots to more than 20. Mouth closed, streamlined, using the sensors on its snout. The maw only open enough to let water flow past its blood engorged gills. The heart pounding, muscles straining, the distance closes, 60 feet, 30 feet, in just a few seconds….
Vibrations ahead, fast prey, get ready, open up…..Odd, overshooting the prey, it’s not moving….what? Readjust the attack, must be a young one, never stop in the kill zone….
The sea lion was headed directly at the surfer and remained just under the surface. The surfer couldn’t tell what was disturbing the water to the right of him, but he could make out, the bullet shaped object was coming straight for him. His heart was now pounding, he had forgotten about the 6 foot+ A-Frame bearing down on him.
What is that in front of me? It’s clumsy, slow….ah, a surfer, I need a breath, turn, woooah! Below me, death below……coming for me…! Turn, roll, accelerate…I’m out!
As the sea lion broached the surface to breath, a shadowy apparition rose from the darkness.
Right above me, 20 feet, 10 feet…it’s still not moving…..easy kill, open wide….
The sea lion made a huge turn at the last second when he saw the mouth open on the hunter. This forced the beast into an overshoot situation. The sea lion arched its back, rolled and darted off into the safety of depth and then into shore. The surfer was still frozen by the sea lion (hands and piggy’s up) when an explosion of teeth, flailing fins, and whitewater plowed up from under him, driving him five to seven feet in the air. The landlord immediately spit the surfer out, knowing before she hit the water, that she had missed breakfast. The surfer’s head bounced off his board when he hit the water flat.
WHAT THE ?! HOLY S***! I’M OUTTA HERE!!!
The 6 foot barrel was all but upon the surfer, but somehow, on his tiny little thruster, the other prey got turned, clawed, dragged, and willed himself back into the glassy hollow wave. He hung on to his board, bleeding, but not too badly considering. And bellied it in to the beach……the surfer didn’t stop paddling until his fins and board scraped and bounced over every rock they met. When he could go no further he stood, and lunged forward up onto the cold brown sand, and collapsed. He didn’t care about the damage to the board…or how bad were his cuts.
I broke a tooth, more where that came from. Back to the deep…still hungry.