It has been estimated that sharks have been around for at least some 500 million years. Unfortunately, due to effects caused by mankind and modern civilization sharks may not be around that much longer.
Though many in the world react with fear at the mention of sharks and consider them dangerous it is a well known fact that the amount of sharks eaten by humans is infinitesimally larger in amount to humans eaten by sharks. In fact though shark attacks around the world are rare and infrequent attacks on sharks have dramatically increased to the point of possible species extinction. It appears the sharks have to worry way more about humans than humans do sharks.
Of the approximately 300 or so shark attacks that occur around the world each year it”s been estimated 45% of them are on surfers.
Of recreational beach users most attacked by sharks surfers are number 1 with swimmers and divers an equal but distant second. From the surface a surfers silhouette can easily be mistaken for a seal or large turtle by a shark looking upward. Surfers are easy targets, but in truth most shark attacks are an accidental case of mistaken identity. If sharks were really after surfers there would be a lot less surfers around. Surprisingly as infamous as sharks are very little is really known about them.
Most sharks offer little or no harm to humans despite their aggressive reputation.
Three sharks that can be extremely harmful and aggressive to humans are the Great White (Carcharodon carcharias), Tiger (Galeocerdo cavier) and Bull ( Carcharhinus leucas) sharks.
Perhaps the most feared of all sharks is the Great White thanks partially to the Hollywood movie Jaws. Long considered the most dangerous of all sharks only the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) is equaled as a marine macro predator. Great Whites principally dwell of temperate continental shelf waters such as off the mainland U.S, and Australian coasts, although they have been spotted in tropical waters off of Hawaii. They can grow up to 25 feet or more weighing thousands of pounds. A Great White attack is primarily feared because it can kill a large man with a single bite. Alas human activities such as over fishing and industrial pollution have caused the Great Whitefs population to substantially decline. Some studies claim the Great Whites population has decreased 79% in the last 15 years. Great White sightings are becoming more rare.
Tiger sharks can grow very big and are considered very dangerous. Full grown Tiger sharks can reach up to 20 feet and weigh over three thousands pounds large enough to attack a small boat which they have been known to do. Tiger sharks prefer warmer tropical waters usually swimming far offshore during the days and coming close in to the reefs and shoreline to feed at night or early morning. Take note, Tiger sharks sometimes swim close in during prime daytime hours. Tiger sharks like other sharks are unpredictable sometimes coming all the way to shore in water so shallow most of their body becomes exposed. Like the jungle animal with the same name Tiger sharks are fierce well-tuned predators.
Not nearly as large as great Whites or Tiger sharks many experts consider the Bull shark the most dangerous of all. Some believe Bull sharks have made more attacks on humans than both the Great White and Tiger sharks. This little buggah is fierce. Adult male bull Sharks reach heights of up to about 7 feet; females are typically 11 to 12 feet weighing up to 500- plus pounds. Bull sharks are known to be most aggressive and can be very dangerous. Bull sharks considered apex predators eat anything and everything. Contents taken from the stomachs of bull sharks have included everything from hippopotami to bicycle tires and yes human remains. Where Great Whites and Tiger sharks generally prefer deeper water Bull sharks tend to prefer shallow water increasing the chances for contact with surfers and swimmers. Amazingly the bull shark has the ability to adapt to fresh water and has been spotted far up the Mississippi, Ganges, Amazon and other fresh water rivers. Tragically the Bull shark population is drastically declining due to environmental fall out and over fishing for commercial use. This gallant warrior is eaten in all coastal areas and its sharkskin used as leather.
Despite the fact that surfers have more of a chance of being attacked by sharks than anyone on earth surfers may well be among the first to defend the honor and recognize the right for sharks to exist.
Sharks are an important part of lifefs natural balance and harmony; surfing would not be surfing with out them. In truth shark sightings are rare and seeing one should be considered good luck in more than one way. Sharks occupy a position at the top of the food chain in a sense they are the Gods of the sea. They play a major role in controlling both the diversity and abundance of other species within the ocean community.
A lot can be learned from sharks such as the Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks. How much longer will sharks exist? Up until now sharks have survived the test of time. One thing for sure, it will be interesting to see if mankind can last 500 million years. Only time will tell. Aloha sea you in the surf.
The Willis Bros. are surfing experts recognized for surfing the worlds largest waves and teaching thousands in Hawaii and California to surf.
“To surf big waves, it takes a very unique individual.”
A big wave surfer, is someone who lives quite literally on the edge of life. Many attributes go into the character of such a person. Eccentric, esoteric, eclectic, no words can describe the big wave surfer. One thing is for sure: big wave surfers are definitely a breed of their own.
If you are seriously interested in riding big waves, then you will be joining one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Owning an eleven foot gun does not get you membership into this club, but you do receive an application. To be one of the few, the proud, the fearless, you must take that first “balls in your stomach” drop. I’d say your first twenty-foot drop could achieve this rare medical phenomenon fairly easily. Big wave surfers go where no other creatures, let alone humans, have ever been. The only way to experience something like the awesome, unleashed, and totally raw power of an ocean wave is to ride it. More people have been in outer space than have ridden thirty-foot waves.
For those of you interested in joining the club, I would like to offer the following tips:
- Equipment. Get the biggest surfboard you can. Usually a surfboard around 11 feet will paddle you into any size wave, anywhere in the world. Whatever the board you pick, it must be big enough to achieve a good paddle speed. This is to not only minimize your risk of being caught inside, but a fast board will allow you to catch the biggest possible wave. Ten-foot boards with extra thickness can also be very useful.
- Buddy System. It’s best to surf with your amigos. In this case all big wave surfers are your amigos! Know where your brothers are at all times. If you are surfing alone, always remember that the ocean is your friend and that God is always with you.
- Water Safety. Learn CPR. If we all learn this, not only are we surfers, but lifesavers too. We all have to look out for each other, basic first aid and simply being alert will minimize the threat of injury or even worse.
- State of Mind. Always go out with a super positive attitude. Your mind should be clear, calm, and focused. Your only job is to catch the biggest wave you can, and drop in as deep as you can. You’re out there to ride huge waves, not small shoulders. So go big.
- Awareness. Keep your eyes open. Always be scanning the horizon for giant rogue waves that will come in and surprise you. A rogue wave is a wave that doubles up with another and becomes a super wave twice the size of the largest wave of the day! That’s the one you want to ride, and for sure the one you don’t want to get caught inside by.
- Safety Devices. Holding your breath for a long time can help build your confidence. A lot of underwater free diving will help you out here. Always stay relaxed, no matter how hard your getting pounded. Nowadays there are very good underwater breathing devices or “spare air.” I would not recommend depending on these, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a back-up air supply with you. A swim fin stuffed in your wetsuit is also useful in case you end up swimming back to shore without a board.
- Commitment. Once you have the wave, take a few extra paddles, and I mean put some power into your paddle. Cheyne Horan once told me about a very powerful day at Waimea Bay where a surfer had dropped all the way down the face of this wave, but the wave had so much water moving up it so rapidly, that the surfer actually got sucked back up the face of the wave backwards while still standing. So take it from me, paddle extra hard and be committed to the wave!
- Bailout. A good bailout procedure is to dive down feet first using your arms to propel you down. First, your head will be closer to the surface by about six feet (closer to air). Second, your feet will be closer to the reef instead of your head in case the turbulence bangs you into the reef. I have hit the bottom at spots that were considered deep, like Waimea. Although there are several different types surfers employ. The important thing is to have a plan when the big sets come.
- Pride. Yellow trunks will help you hide your dribble, in case you pee your pants
- Desire. You have to actually, truly, and honestly really want it. If in the bottom of your heart, you truly love riding big waves, then this actually covers all tips.
Cultivate your love of big wave riding for your own personal development and peace of mind, and your destined to ride moving mountains. Big wave pioneer and legend, Fred Van Dyke once signed his classic big wave poster for me “The Willis Bothers ride the Bay like I always dreamed!” Well, I say unto you: may your big wave surfing go beyond anything that I could ever dream!
Marine Safety week is the last week in May. For those of us lucky enough to live near the ocean, marine safety is year round. In Hawaii the locals say “Melama ke kai”.
On the mainland local’s say “Respect the sea”. By practicing the following tips, beach veterans and new comers alike increase their own and others safety and enjoyment.
1. Always respect ocean waves of all sizes and be aware.
2. Learn about the beaches. Waves break over beach breaks, reefs, and point breaks.
3. In shallow water never dive in head first.
4. Always do the sting ray shuffle.
5. Never swim alone.
6. When you enter the water know before hand where you will be coming in.
7. Use a beach marker.
8. Be able to spot rip currents. If caught in a rip current, swim to the nearest wave.
9. Become clean ocean aware.
10. Tear up plastic rings from cans.
11. Use environmentally friendly detergents and practice recycling.
12. Become a beach guardian.
Is a rip tide a surfersf friend? Do undertows actually exist and if so what are they? Are ocean long shore currents dangerous even for advanced surfers?
Chances are if you know the correct answers to these questions you are a dedicated surfer. If you do not know the answers to these simple questions take the time to find the answers. Even if you do not plan to recreationally use the ocean chances are you know and care for some one who will. By taking the time to share ocean safety knowledge you may be taking the time to save a life. Share the knowledge.
Rip tides in reality are rip currents (there is no such thing as a rip tide), and yes they are an experienced surfers friend. Smart surfers use rip currents to get quickly to the waves with the least amount of expended energy paddling. Surfers smart enough to use rip currents are going with and using the ocean Rip Current flow. Surfers not smart enough to use the rip currents go against the ocean flow, expend unnecessary energy and make getting to the waves more difficult than it should be. Many times the best waves are found right along side of rip currents. Surfers who understand rip currents use them to full advantage.
Swimmers and inexperienced surfers who do not understand rip currents can get into real trouble. A rip current can swiftly pull a hapless swimmer from shallow water into deeper water sometimes far out to sea. Eighty percent of ocean rescues involve swimmers caught in rip currents. In the old days if caught in a rip current it was advised for a swimmer to swim parallel to the beach. Rip currents however do not always run specifically straight out, many times a rip current can run parallel or diagonal to the beach before heading out to sea. The best thing do if you are ever caught in a rip current is to swim for the closest waves. Remember where the waves are water is coming in, in between the waves is where water goes out.
Rip currents are associated more with the surf than they are the tides. Generally, the higher the waves become the more substantial the rip currents will be. Most rip currents begin along or on the shore. Watch the long shore feeder currents along the shore and they will reveal where a rip current begins and where it is going. As waves wash completely up the beach follow the water back out, notice where it goes. Rip currents often look like choppy or muddy rivers flowing away from shore.
Undertows are believed to be currents that pull swimmers under the water. Though rip currents which can pull swimmers out to sea do exist, undertows do not. There are no currents that will pull a swimmer under and keep him there. A swimmer may get knocked temporarily under by a wave but an ocean current will never take a swimmer under.
Long Shore Currents Long shore currents which run parallel to the shore can be dangerous in some cases to both swimmers and surfers. In addition to water currents constantly coming in and out water currents are constantly moving one way or the other along the shore. Many surfers choose some type up a beach marker before going out to the waves in order to maintain position and keep from drifting down the beach. Many a surfer has gone out surfing in one place and ended up coming back in to a completely different place way up or down the beach.
Life has its very own rip currents, undertows and long shore currents. All you have to do is recognize the currents around you. Some are currents are very real others that appear real do not actually exist at all. Go with the ones that are positive and get off the ones that may not be. If you do not see the currents going on around you, you are like a swimmer who does not understand the currents of the sea. If you see and understand how to positively use the currents around you, give thanks and share the knowledge, you may save a life. Aloha
Looking out at the calm, turquoise-colored water on a beautiful sunny day, twin sisters decided to go for a short swim close to shore.
The cool water felt good against their sun-warmed bodies as they dove into the ocean. Because of the tranquil conditions, they hadn’t noticed the current was slowly taking them further out. By the time either of the girls realized they had drifted out, a series of high waves came crashing in. To make matters more precarious there were large rocks to their right and left of where they were. What moments earlier had been a serene and pleasurable situation had now become a matter of life and death.
By chance, a vigilant and highly aware surfer happened to see the two sisters struggling in this life threatening situation. Realizing there wasn’t enough time to summon lifeguards or additional help with no one else on the beach the surfer bravely dove in and made his way to the already panic stricken girls. Making this rescue more difficult was the ocean currents, which had dramatically increased with the flurry of strong and powerful oncoming waves.
Rescuing a potential drowning victim (let alone two) can be very hazardous especially if the swimmer or swimmers are panicked. Knowing he had to stabilize this situation, the surfer upon reaching the twins called out ,”Everything will be OK, I’m here,” and to the shock of the distressed girls he added, “I’ll save you, but it’s going to cost you a six pack of beer.”
Now at first you might think, “hey, wait a minute what’s up with that?” The truth of the matter is, this brave surfer didn’t really care about the beer and would have performed this dramatic rescue (risking his own life) either way beer or no beer.
The fact is the surfer was psychologically calming the twins, letting them know this perilous situation was under control; his control. Incredulous, at first the pair quickly agreed and seconds later were both in the safe arms of a highly experienced waterman. Now, he had to determine how to get everyone together safely back to shore. Fortunately while the surfer was making the rescue others who were passing by witnessing the unfolding drama and the severity of the situation used cell phones to alert lifeguards.
Hearing the lifeguard and fire engine sirens, the surfer knew additional help was on the way. It wasn’t long before a lifeguard came swimming out to assist in the rescue.
The experienced surfer and lifeguard made a plan how best to get the sisters to the beach. With one sister in the surfers arms and the other with the lifeguard they cautiously made their way to shore through the rocks and waves. To the relief of the twins and the now throng of people watching, everyone made it made it safely to shore.
Fortunately for these girls there was someone who knew what to do, and acted, Sadly, with just a minimal of ocean education and water safety information most drowning could be prevented, subverting a very dangerous situation. These girls were lucky. Many who face similar predicaments are not. Currently, unless someone takes a specialized water safety course, prudent ocean education is hard to come by. Drowning is known as the silent death, no one can hear a scream from someone under the water.
The very first thing surfers, swimmers and beach goers alike should do every single time they come to the beach, is do an ocean observation. Look for hazards such as rocks, riptides, strong currents and wave size. Remember the ocean can be calm one minute and active the next so it pays to do more than a cursory check.
Take note. Many times riptides occur in between waves or off to the side of where waves break. More than one swimmer has run into trouble when they were in the waves and swam over to “calm” water only to get caught in a riptide. In fact, it’s a good idea to swim in with the waves as they can help getting to shore be swifter.
Drowning can occur in waves also if surfers or swimmers are inexperienced and not sure what to do. Usually most surfers and swimmers can hold their breath while going under a wave or two. It’s when going under multiple waves that trouble can occur. The best thing to do in this situation is instead of diving under the waves and coming up to face another, don’t dive, stay water level and let the waves push you in.
One of the worst things to do in the ocean is to panic. If you are ever in a hazardous situation remember the A.B.C ‘s of surfing; always be cool. If you ever find yourself under water needing air, stay calm and relaxed which will help conserve strength and oxygen. There are many proactive ways to prevent trouble and drown proof those who use the ocean Unfortunately the information is held by only a few including the hero in this story..
The two sisters made good on their agreement for the six pack of beer only they upped it to a case and helped drink it! They both agreed, although unorthodox, that when the cocky surfer made the request he must have been awfully sure of himself and that everything would be alright. They weren’t afraid after that. With ocean popularity and beach use at an all time high it is a shame pro-active and preventative ocean education isn’t. By taking the time to learn water safety and ocean education from experienced professionals and exercising common sense drowning can be prevented. The cost of a six pack of beer is cheap. The cost of a life is priceless. Sea you in the surf.
The Willis Bros. are surfing experts recognized for surfing the worlds largest waves and teaching thousands in Hawaii and California to surf.