Who Is Watching Your Back?

Another postcard beach day in Florida!

If you have been surfing for a long time, then more than likely you will one day encounter a situation that you probably did not much enjoy. Being that most of us surf in the ocean, sharks are one of those tiny issues that we encounter from time to time. Thankfully most of the encounters turn out to be nothing more than seeing a fat black tip slowly cruising by in the distance.

You know how many cities have a distinction such as “The Friendly City” or “City of Brotherly Love?” Some town nick names are created from some cool factual distinction such as; Tortillaville-home of the world’s largest taco. Well, to paint a picture, I surf at Ponce Inlet which is on the northern side of an inlet called Ponce Inlet that separates two cities. The city on the north side of the inlet is Daytona Beach and the city on the south side is called New Smyrna Beach. Our jetty is about 75 times larger than the jetty on the Smyrna side which is a good thing because the sharks can not seem to understand how to swim around our mega-jetty.

Where is the channel? Please follow Mr. Spinner and he will gladly escort you there!

But poor New Smyrna Beach… Countless sharks eye the little jetty and promptly swim around it instead of trying to take on the huge jetty (path of least resistance) and thus New Smyrna has the world-wide distinction of being “The Shark Attack Capital of the World!” Yahooooo! Even worse, New Smyrna Inlet is also a wave magnet.  In the summer when even Ponce becomes pancake flat; the only hope in the state of Florida for a good surf for the wave-starved is at New Smyrna Beach. So a surfer must join a horde of angry surfers and angrier sharks in hopes to unleash a few turns on some peaks that are sized perfectly for the Lilliputians.

Many years ago, I wrote this story and it appeared in Eastern Surfing Magazine. It was all about one of my many happy shark encounters that I have had during my many years of surfing. This has included my fun birthday encounter at New Smyrna which could also go under a new category that I could create called, “Epic Surfing Fail”. That was because while we were surfing a large, warped-up, shark infested peak at  New Smyrna Inlet, my home break was completely going off without me despite the wrong swell direction. During this fun day, I had a large shark almost perform a perfect belly flop right on top of me and to further rub it in, I was able to go online and read the countless comments raving about the day of the year at Ponce.  The pictures and videos further added to the sting. Anyway, this story is about the day we decided to surf on the river side of the jetty at New Smyrna Beach. On a hard south swell, the waves wrap along the inlet side of the jetty along a sand bar that runs next to the deep drop off of the boat channel. That means peeling waves and it also means loads of sharks! 

The Tale of Bravery!

Surfing is a very fun sport that can give a person a feeling of deep satisfaction but it is the ocean and things can change on a dime. When things go terribly wrong, stories come out of extreme bravery from the surfer involved and also from their surfing partners. One story I read always comes to mind and it involves two brothers who decided to paddle the channel to surf the wave at South Stradbroke Island in Australia. After paddling for a short time, a large shark appeared and began circling and harassing one of the brothers. So his brother paddled over and began to hit the water to scare the shark away from his brother. Well, it did not go to plan because the shark then forgot the brother he was interested in and then turned his interest to the rescuer. So the other brother did the same thing and the shark once again went after him. This went on for a while; they paddled some and then one would be harassed, and the other brother would step up and then the shark would turn on him. More paddling would ensue and then the other brother would step in. Finally, after the scare of their lives, they both made landfall and were safe.

We always wish for friends like these.  

Many years ago, we were experiencing a weather pattern of south winds so during this time, my friends and I were enjoying day after day of surfing on the inlet side of the jetty at New Smyrna. It was in the spring time so the big shark migration had not happened yet and we had not seen a shark in the area in months so we felt pretty safe surfing by the inlet. On this day, we checked the surf and it was still suffering from the same agonizing south drift but as we climbed onto the jetty and looked on the other side of the rocks, once again we were greeted by stomach high waves reeling by. We were out there!

So for a few hours, we traded off right hander after right hander and we were enjoying ourselves and having a good time. I was out pretty far when this wave started lifting up and I scrambled over to catch it.  In order to get into it, I had to paddle hard and even give a few kicks of my feet but I got it and off I went! Whack! Whack! I was flying down the line and feeling pretty good when I started to get to a slower section. I looked down and immediately noticed a large black shape deep under the wave. The water was not perfectly clear so the shape was not discernible because it was far back behind the wave but I kept staring and slowly it moved closer to me. The shape soon became more and more torpedo like and finally it was maybe five feet back behind the wave so it was really taking shape. voila! A nice, fat shark. Oh great! So I started to get some speed and go down the line…there was my new pal swimming fast. I slowed down and he slowed down. So our game of follow the leader began.

Finally after riding a good distance with my curious new friend in tow, I knew I had to do something and fast. The wave peeled along a shallow bar so it was shallower back where the wave had already broke. I pumped as fast as I could and then straightened out in a whipping motion and cut my board left. I then made a big leap into the waist deep water and started to run for the beach. As I ran, I stumbled a few times because my surfboard on the leash now became a ball and chain attached to my leg.

Once I reached the beach, I reeled in my board and began to process the situation. One of my first thoughts were of my buddies who were out there with me. The line up was ghost-town empty and waves were peeling off unridden. I walked back to the jetty and crossed over it and there by the car were my buddies in a group. I walked up and told them my story and their replies left me shaking my head. As I was paddling and kicking my feet to catch the wave, they saw the shark zip by and then they saw it begin to follow me. As I rode off with my new pal in tow, they scrambled for the jetty and saw some rocks with no barnacles and climbed out. Then they took off down the jetty for the beach on the other side and went straight for the safety of the car. They did not even head back to render assistance just in case I did fall off and maybe took a bite. Brave guys! Needless to say, the drive home was a bit icy.

Non-Heroic Trophy for Aquatic Wimpiness

So remember, your surfing partner might seem like nothing of importance but one day you might learn how important it is to have someone you can trust watching your back.

Please feel free to share your awful shark stories. Scott can certainly put in 5 or 6 on his own!

 

Hold on! I am trying to get out to help you! Man...how did they say to duck dive?

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About 1stpeaksteve

Welcome to The Side Wedge! The Side Wedge is a product of the journey through life of Steve Zima. Former professional surfer, a writer, surf coach, and hospitality manager. This is a collection of travel tips, motivation, and stories from my past. Finally, I offer surf coaching through The Side Wedge. Please feel free to contact me with questions if you want to improve your performance today! Thanks for reading!
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6 Responses to Who Is Watching Your Back?

  1. jjalbertt says:

    I started surfing about a year ago, and love year. Thankfully I have yet to come across any sharks….Just a few seals.
    Great post! 🙂

  2. jjalbertt says:

    and love it**

  3. I’m surfing the Atlantic for this time this summer, east coast of the states but further north in Massachusetts. I have been pretty nervous of the sharks out there, I’m not sure if this made me more or less at ease! At least I have some idea of what to do if I do see one!

    • 1stpeaksteve says:

      Where do you surf now? Massachusetts has good surf. The water makes me cry though but summer is not bad. You will be alright in regards to the sharks. For some odd reason, the White Sharks are not interested in humans. Nothing like Florida! The White Sharks here do not eat humans either…just all of the others species do!

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