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Surfing With Sharks: Fact vs. Fiction Shark Information

There has recently been a surge of interest in sharks ever since a shark attack in Monterey Bay California on August 28, 2007. The surfer survived, but suffered injury. Shark attacks continue to be very rare, so unless you live in the immediate area of the attack or surf very sharky waters, don’t let this attack deter you from surfing. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, but remember that shark attacks are more rare than being hit by lightning. Read on for all our information on sharks!

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Sharks, the men in the grey suits.

Ever since the movie Jaws came out, our toothy neighbors have had trouble with their reputation. People tend to think that if a shark happens to be in the water within a half mile radius then it will make a beeline to bite them in half. This is completely untrue. As a species, they don’t really like to eat humans very much. We’re too bony for them =). They also tend to avoid contact with humans, and they’re usually rather wary of us.

Sharks are bloodthirsty man-eating beasts that often hunt humans for food.

It’s true, sharks are a hazard when you’re in the ocean. It’s ok to have respect for sharks, but don’t let your fear keep you from surfing or enjoying your time in the ocean. Shark attacks are very, very rare. You’re more likely to be killed in an automobile accident on your way to the beach, or struck by lightning while changing into your wetsuit. More people are killed by bees and snakes in the US than sharks.

That said, there are some places where sharks are quite common. Colder, deeper water or certain geographical locations have a greater number of sharks. One of the most popular exotic surf breaks, Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa, is known to be frequented by the men in the grey suits. Maverick’s in Half Moon Bay, CA is also a known sharky spot.

How to Deal:

If you’re attacked by a shark, you can do your best to try to fight it off. Several people have successfully fought off sharks by bashing them in the nose. I’m not joking around! Since the shark is usually put off by the boniness of our bodies and the fiberglass of the surfboard, most of the time sharks do not come back for another bite. You can add to its decision not to come back by striking at its nose and eyes as these are sensitive areas.

* * *

Burgess, George H. “Reducing the Risk of Shark Attacks.” 1991. :

How do you escape a shark attack?
“Well, obviously you want to get out of there fast,” Burgess said, “but you should try to make your escape as quietly and evenly as possible.” He explained that sharks are attracted to splashing and are likely to be enthused by further activity, so the calmer you can make your panicked retreat, the better. “Of course, you want to do whatever you can to get away quickly if the shark’s following you, whether or not that means splashing,” he added.

What if you witness an attack?
“There are very few cases in which a rescuer suffered while trying to help a victim,” said Burgess. “Actually, helping a victim probably decreases the chances of a second attack, because the additional person may spook the shark and drive it away.” So if your friend is beyond the breakers and rehearsing for the next “Jaws” movie, try to overcome your natural instincts and dive in to help.
* * *

In conclusion, I’d like to say that you should not let fear of sharks ruin your enjoyment of the ocean. Many experienced surfers often start feeling “sharky” while out in the water by themselves on a gray, cloudy day. This is quite normal. Some surfers will suppress the feelings, and others will exit the water if their “shark sense” becomes overwhelming. With some experience you’ll know what’s right for you.

It’s also common to see “shadows” in the water around your board. This is caused by the reflective and uneven quality of the water, as well as burns in your vision caused by the sun. I often see shadows and get a little thrill, but it’s important to think realistically.

Another cause for alarm is fish swimming around. Don’t worry if you see a large fish go swimming by. I’ve heard of bluefish trying to bite people, but don’t get your boardshorts in a bunch because it’s extremely rare. IF, however, you notice a lot of fish swarming around for some reason, it might be wise to exit the water.

A few more tips:

You can help to avoid shark encounters by doing the following (We do not guarantee that these work!):

  • Do not surf in areas with lots of seals. If you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of seals, it would be wise to leave the area. Sharks prey on seals and might confuse you for one.
  • Don’t surf with bleeding wounds.
  • For women with their period, it’s OK to surf if you are wearing a fresh tampon. Use the highest absorbency you can find.
  • This may be a myth, but try not to pee.  (easier said than done, huh?) Urine is a sign of distress in some sea animals and it is thought that sharks may be attracted to urine.
  • Don’t surf near fishing boats that are actively chumming.
  • Don’t wear shiny jewelry.
  • Avoid surfing at dawn or dusk if possible. This is the time when sharks are more active.
  • I’ve seen websites say to avoid having an uneven tan because sharks see contrast well, but I think this is baloney. However if you want to be extra extra cautious, having an evenly tanned body will allow you to be fashionable as well as sharkproof. No zebra-print bathing suits, either. You also might want to rethink that neon yellow and black wetsuit.
  • Try out the Sharkbanz shark repellent bracelet (see our Sharkbanz review for more information) which uses a magnet to repel sharks.

Personal confession: Even though I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg, I have never seen the movie Jaws, and now that I am an avid surfer I am doing my best to avoid seeing it because I know it will not do me any good while I’m out in the water. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d personally advise you to continue to avoid it unless you are absolutely convinced that you will never be afraid of sharks. There are plenty of other movies to enjoy, so don’t go adding to your stress level. If you must see people getting eaten, watch the Alien series 😉


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  2. I’m in South Africa and heading to Jeffery’s Bay next week to buy my first board to learn how to surf. I’m terrified of sharks and not sure how to get over that, haha.. this article is great but still pretty frightened 🙁 Do you think this is going to ruin surfing for me?

    1. I don’t think it will ruin surfing! Get some local help and advice on where the good beginner spots are around there.

  3. I’m in Australia too. Never see sharks on the sunshine or gold coast, however I go to North Stradbroke Island every year and no joke see a shark EVERY surf when i’m there! Fortunately they just swim by and as I’m on a waveski (edibles out of the water) I just enjoy the view!

  4. I live in Australia and I see and experience sharks all the time. A couple of weeks ago there was an attack at my favourite beach and the guy lost his hand on one arm and his arm to his elbow on th other. I’m wondering though: do you guys have an inbuilt shark warning sense for those who experience them often? It’s weird, I always know when there is a shark nearby. Anyway, yeah, don’t let anyone else’s fear of sharks get to you either, surf because you love it. Sharks have always been there, they will always be there, don’t let it rob you.

  5. Ah I too used to console myself with the odds of a lightning strike vs shark attack, that was until two years ago (30 yrs of surfing) when a 5-6 meter white pointer came up right next to me on a reef break about two hundred very long slow meters off shore. It had a dorsal fin the size of a 4wd tire and swam under and around me. Thank God it didn’t fancy fillet,o white guy none the less scared the crap out of me and now I see every bloody shadow four a quarter mile square.

    Younsuddenly feel very small and helpless truth is you have one life look after it.

  6. “…more likely to be killed in an automobile accident…”
    I at least feel I have some control when in a car and can avoid an accident if necessary therefore driving doesn’t scare me, but what the heck can I do if a shark wants to attack me?
    Helplessness is a rotten feeling.

  7. “…more likely to be killed in an automobile accident…” I at least I feel I have some control over whether I get into an accident by taking evasive action but what the heck can I do if a shark wants to attack me?
    Helplessness is a rotten feeling.

  8. thanks for the info! I’m terrified of sharks and im going surfing this summer, never tried it and going with a buddy!

  9. i think you think very positive! and you havea wonderful personality!!! thanks for the advice! 🙂 🙂 this was VERY helpful!!! please email me. beacause i want too be a surfer, and a marinebiologist.

  10. If you have not been stalked by a shark i can tell you that you dont know the true meaning of fear yet…. I am from South Africa and have had a few brushes with quite a variety of sharks whilst out surfing, GW’s Tigers, Bulls, and reef sharks etc. All i can say is they come out of [email protected] nowhere and its damn scary…it has actually ruined my surfing experience for me these days because i know that they are always around – just not always looking for a meal.

  11. Man has reduced the sharks food source by over fishing it is no wonder then why attacks are up, the sharks are hungry and it is also why they must be fished as to keep things in balance.

  12. So if sharks are attracted to the scent of blood, should women just completely give up surfing during that special “happy week”???

  13. Hey guys, story! My Dad and his friend Adam were surfing at the powerplant, and they were about 8 feet apart. All of a sudden, a Spinnershark jumped out right between them, if my Dad reached out, he could have touched it. They didn’t get out though, haha. And when my older sister was little (3 years young) my dad was surfing, and when he came out of the water, a huge chunk was missing from his board. He just picked up a new one and headed right back out!

  14. Great post! I try not to think about what lurks beneath when I’m out there surfing. It’s not always easy to do – especially if I’m in water that is gray and murky. The beach I learned to surf at, though it’s very popular, got it’s name and reputation from a string of attacks that happened in the 60s. But other than that it’s a great place to learn, because of the rolling waves that never exceed intermediate height. What’s probably more dangerous (and a higher probability rate) are rouge surfboards that can pop up and hit you in the head! Be careful when coming up from a wipeout. Always best to fold your arms over your head.

  15. I am a newbie since September. I wanted to play with the dolphins at my beach. I “squealed” (inwardly) to the dolphins to see if I could get an invite to play. I got (inwardly) “We are fishing over here. There are predators that you don’t want to excite.” Then a stern hush.

    Without making a conscious decision, I found myself on the beach wondering what just happened. Did I just get reprimanded by a dolphin? For not knowing how to act in the presence of a . . . shark?

    Two days later 10/31/11 was an official siting at Beacons, SD, CA (my beach) of an 8-10 ft great white shark circling someone in chest high water at 2:30. It was the sardines.

    The lesson was clear. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
    BTW, learn how to use your “spidey sense”. It comes in handy in lots of ways. Trust the force.


  17. I lived in Byron Bay for a year and surfed almost everyday and never saw a shark… I think. Such a beautiful part of the world!

  18. I wear bright pink or neon green..I NEVER go below my head..

    Shark Storyy(: Me and my friend and her brother were swimming in waist length water,adn my friend cut her self on somthin so she was brising off the blood and 10 seconds later her brother was screaming”SHARK!!”My friend said liar i said no he aind look down! a shark was right beside it..she was tried to bite her but she jumped so far she reached the shore it wasnt a very big she..about 2feet long..Scary

  19. I have always wanted to learn to surf but I’m so scared of sharks. I use to go in the ocean constantly without thinking about them but it seems like you hear a lot more about attacks these days. Going to Byron Bay OZ in December and really want to try surfing. Just hope I can keep sharks out of my head and my limbs out of sharks!

  20. Thanks for all the info. I’m about to buy my first board and was really exited, ’til yesterday I started looking for shark attacks info, and was not bad. But when I went to pictures I panic! But reading this website sat in me real good, and the advices are great. Hey, mother nature gives us the best, but also gives us the test. Thanks for all the great info!!!

  21. sharks are all around north carolina beaches. you see them in the water all the time, esp around dawn and dusk sessions. going back to the basics kiddies, DONT PANIC and remain CALM, try and surf with a buddy at all times, and dont just watch the sets come rolling in, situational awarness is key. if they start to circle, paddle with smooth, even strokes with a purpose back to the beach. Other wise, enjoy the nature so few get to experience. And no, it is not funny to lash a raw steak to the new guy when he is paddling out as “Initiation”.

  22. the don’t pee bit which I had heard of is true, but mythbusters did an investigation into this, seems it doesn’t attract sharks, but not great for wetsuit odours in any case!

  23. ok about the ” dont buy colour contrasting wetsuits thing ” wouldn’t it be better to wear those kinds of colours ? seals are grey/black not neon yellow and black , i think sharks would look at you more mistakenly if you were wearing just an all black wetsuit ?

  24. I had a couple of “encounters” with sharks in my surfing days. The first time, I was standing on a sandbar at the shorebreak resting. The wave hit, and I looked down to see a dark shadow about 5 feet long swim between me and my buddy. This was sandy, Texas water, but I could make out the shark in waist deep water.
    The second was at Freeport, TX. I was paddling to catch a wave and my hand brushed against what felt like sandpaper under the water. I knew what it was, and could barely stay on my board. Needless to say, I bodyboarded all the way to shore with no hands or feet in the water again.

  25. I think that sting rays is much moore scary than sharks. Have you ever stept on a sting ray? Well, its fuxxing hurts!!

  26. One day I was surfing with my buddy at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. My buddy says “Check it out” and pointed down. A 10ft. Hammerhead shark was swimming right between us. He was so long it took him awhile to swim by!

    I always thought I would freak out if I saw a shark in the water but believe it our not, I didn’t. It was actually very interesting. I think I was more frightened later on than when it was actually happening. Weird…

    My buddy and I paddled in slowly and caught the first wave we could. I remember body boarding in because I didn’t want to take the chance of falling!

    We set on the beach and watched the shark swim around through the breakers. After a while he moved on. True story….

  27. Great info. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever go travelling but for now I’m o.k coz chances of seeing a shark let alone being attacked is very rare in Ireland

  28. Correction on my earlier post. The shark electrical field sensory system is called the ampullae of Lorenzini. The other sensory systems, are the lateral line (pressure differential sense), hearing, sight and their incredible sense of smell. To say the shark’s eyesight causes them to mistake us for seals is giving short shrift to the complex system of environmental awareness and analysis that the sharks possess. They are not just a swimming appetite that has existed for multimillions of years. Have fun, be safe.

  29. I recently took a Marine Biology course during which we discussed shark attack behavior. The latest thinking by some shark researchers is that the sharks know exactly what we are when we are in the water. They have 5 separate sensory systems by which they determine what is near them and what it is. Not the least of which is their ability to make electrical impulse “pictures” of any living thing that is near them with their pits of Lorenzoni. Hence their ability to hunt in murky water. Recent studies of agressive shark behavior just prior to attacks seems to indicate that humans are attacked because they are perceived by the shark as competition for the shark’s food supply not because they are mistaken for seals. The advice to stay away from seals is good. Especially, in light of the recent fatal attack on a woman at Avila Beach who was swimming with seals. Put zebra stripes on your board if it will make you feel good, but the shark probably already knows what you are long before it sees the stripes. Trust your gut, but keep sliding.

  30. i think a zebra striped wet suit would be good because that new “shark camo” product is like a sticker that you put on the bottom of your board to keep sharks away from you. They stay away from poisonous fish like lion fish and other fish that all have the stripes on them which what i have read they keep the sharks away

  31. Hey! but i’ve heard that the colors that mean danger in the sea are black and yellow. It kinda means that the animal is very poisoning.. This makes a lot of sense to me….

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