Sharks. Tiburones.

Shark. For most, that one word consistently conjures up a 1975 movie promo poster of a shark launching from the depths to attack a lady who is briskly swimming along the surface unaware of her fate. Details to note,

  1. That movie was Jaws,
  2. The shark’s size in the promo poster is comparative to that of a megalodon (prehistoric shark often exceeding 52′ in length, with a mouth width of approximately 5′ – 6′.
  3. It was just a movie.
Evolution of Sharks

While shark attacks on humans do occur, they are infrequent, and rarely involve a Megalodon that has been extinct for approximately 1.4 million years.

Rebuilt Jaws of a Megalodon

That being said, on Friday, October 22nd, 2010 a young man by the name of Lucas Ransom was fatally attacked by a shark at Surf Beach, just north of Jalama Beach, at the Vandenberg Air Base in California. Sources report that the night before the incident, Lucas and his long-time friend Matthew Garcia were fiending over the anticipated conditions (swell, wind, and water temp) for the next morning’s surf/Bodyboarding session. The next morning they arrived at Surf Beach and were greeted with chest to head high, blue water barrels: Conditions that we as surfers crave. Shortly into their session (between 9 & 9:30am) Matthew heard his friend shout for help before he (Lucas) was pulled underneath the water by a shark. By Matthew’s account the shark was about 18′ long. When Lucas silently resurfaced Matthew raced to his aid, flipped him on his back and pulled him to shore. Due to his injury Lucas lost a tremednous amount of blood, which ultimately contributed to his death.

On October 25th, 2010 the Santa Barabara County coroner’s office reported that the shark involved in the Surf Beach incident was likely a Great White, about 17′-18′, and weighing approximately 4000 lbs. For more information regarding this particular incident please visit: LA Times Blogs; San Luis Obispo Tribune; KTLA.

The point of this post is not to spark fear, but instead to help educate those (new surfers, parents of surfers, people who have thought about surfing) who no doubt will have questions and concerns regarding the ocean. As a waterman (surfer, swimmer, lifeguard, swim/surf instructor, and Junior Lifeguard Instructor), I have a tremendous amount of respect for the ocean as moving body of energy, and the life that resides in it. In fact, I was in the water swimming around the Avila Beach Pier in a race when Deborah Franzman was fatally attacked approximately 400 yards up the beach, in 2003.

In my experience of being in the water during a fatal shark incident, witnessing a baby hammerhead shark posturing towards my board at Ala Moana Bowls in 1998, and following stories of shark incidents internationally, I have learned that there are certain signs and geographical characteristics that are consistent with shark sitings and incidents. That being said, please note that this is by no means a science, and that mother nature is often times unpredictable.

As most of the people interviewed over the past couple of weeks have mentioned, “It is their (sharks) habitat.” However, that being said, there are some areas that are more prone for shark activity than others: Places that have rocky bases and reefs; bays such as San Francisco Bay; and areas with steep drop offs from the shore (Monterey Bay, Davenport, Big Sur,); and in particular, areas that have an abundance of sea lion and seal life (San Simeon), rivermouths (like up in Northern California/Oregon.) A non-geographical sign that the “circle of life” is in motion are “bait balls.” These often involve a school of fish (sardines, mackerel, smelt, anchovies, etc.) migrating based on water temperatures and currents, and in turn attracting birds, seals, larger fish, and… Sharks. From the deck of a boat, the sands of a beach, or the crossboards of a pier these are amazing to watch. From the water with your legs hanging over your board, they can cause your heart rate to jump when aware that you are now in the middle of the “circle of life.”

Traditionally  “shark season” (Discovery: Shark Week) kicks up in the month of August and lasts until about November, as this tends to be the warmer water months, birth cycles of sea lions and seals are abundant, etc. Attacks don’t happen very often, but when they do they certainly shake up our reality of being in the ocean. While Great Whites are not totally predictable, they  tend  to “bump” into people in water deeper than 9′, and in the areas previously mentioned (rocky bottoms; bays; rivermouths; reefs; where there is an abundance of seals, sea lions, etc.) The reality

I hope that this wasn’t too much information, but at the same time I want to help people understand something that I personally take into consideration with respect, education, and awareness each time I go into the ocean. The closest comparison on land would be our freeways and streets: there are good drivers and bad drivers, and accidents happen. But with a little education and awareness of our surroundings we can significantly reduce our chances of getting into an accident by recognizing certain signs. At the same time, life is unpredictable.

Types of Sharks and Location


Great White Shark – live in all coastal temperate waters.


Tiger Sharks (not to be confused with the smaller and more docile leopard shark) – Tiger sharks live in tropical and subtropical oceans (Hawaii) and sometimes in temperate waters.

Bull Shark (a nasty ‘lil’ bugger when “bumped” into) – turbid inshorewaters,lagoons, estuaries, freshwater rivers, coastlines, and reef environments. Circumtropical and subtropical areas (Examples = Florida Coastline, Gulf of Mexico, Lower East Coast States, etc.)

Mako Sharks ( Mackeral Sharks) – typically live in tropical and temperater offshore waters (Channel Islands, California.) This little whipper-snapper can leap out of the water to heights of up to 20 feet, and can travel speeds up to 35mph.

Leopard Shark (a docile bottom feeder that eats worms, shrimp, crabs, and fish eggs)- can be found along the Pacific coast from Oregon to Baja California. They can often be seen in shallow water estuaries, outlets/inlets for power plants, and bays.

Thresher Shark – Live in all temperate and tropical oceans. Can be sighted in shallow, inshore waters, but prefer the open ocean.

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Near Drownings

I just heard – AGAIN – that there was another near-drowning at the Avila Hot Springs last week on Tuesday, September 21st 2010.  The incident involved an 11 year old child who was attending an organized function with 70 other children. According to my source, the Avila Hot Springs had three lifeguards on staff that day to supervise and maintain the safety of the group. During the course of the event a lifeguard noticed that a child was floating face down in the pool, jumped in, and pulled her out. When the lifeguard checked for A-B-Cs (Airway-Breathing-Circulation) the child was not breathing, and CPR was initiated. By the time the fire department arrived, the child had been resuscitated.

As a lifeguard, lifeguard instructor and manager, swim instructor, water safety educator and Jr. Lifeguard Instructor for over 16 years I can say with authority that events like this should never happen when lifeguards are on duty. If  it does, they are either not being vigilant, attentive, and doing their job or they are not well qualified, trained and managed. Beyond the tragedy of this most recent incident, this was the second near-drowning at the Avila Hot Springs in the last 12 months.  This needs to stop.  There is no excuse for it and it needs to stop.

In my professional experience I have never heard of, or witnessed a child simply passing out in a pool, stop breathing, and ending up face down or on the bottom of the pool without provocation, or neglect. Generally there are a series of events and signs (splashing frantically, bulging eyes, coughing, bobbing up and down, etc.) that lead to a child losing consciousness, and in turn requiring assisted extrication from a pool.

I would like to advise all parents with children to never leave your children unattended when at the beach, pool, or lake. Lifeguards are there to educate on aquatic safety, enforce rules so as to prevent incidents from occurring, and immediately respond to incidents to prevent further injury and potential death.

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Coastal Wilderness Waves

I am back from the “coastal wilderness” of Big Sur. Not quite the Chris McCandless type adventure into the Alaskan wilderness (Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer), but a worthy weekend get away non the less. The trip included stories and trash talking with the boys by the bonfire after the girls went to bed; dares that included bobbing for apples in the Fernwood Campground river; a 30 minute midnight drive to the Esalen cliff side hot tubs with the girls; and last but not least surfing.

While there I had the pleasure of surfing Andrew Molera for the first time. For those of you unfamiliar with Big Sur, Andrew Molera is located on the north end of Big Sur, approximately 30 miles or so, south of Carmel. Parking to access the beach is on the side of  the PCH, and at the foot of the trail-head. The Eucalyptus tree covered trail takes you on a 1/2 mile trek along the river, and drops you off at the rivermouth. Depending on the tide, you have to wade across the river to get to the beach.

In addition to possessing a pretty amazing 4-5 mile stretch of beach, there is a rather curious right-handed point break. I use the word curious because I have never surfed a point quite like it. From the beach you will see the first land attached point 75-100 yards out. Twenty five yards beyond the first point there is a large rock, or the second point. The waves tend to break at the second point, roll, and then reform at the first point. The set up is  similar to that of Leo Carrillo in the sense that there is usually a pack of people huddled together waiting for the sets, which makes it all the more curious when you have to slide through white wash, wait for the reform, and then catch the wave. If it is your first time surfing Andrew Molera and you’re either sketched out with the point set up, or get worn out trying to get it dialed, there is a slightly slower inside wave to take advantage of. The inside is slightly less consistent than the outside point, but it is an option.

All in all it was a nice weekend with friends, waves, and fresh coastal air. While it was not as productive (waves wise, or financially) as Kelly Slater’s BIG win at Trestles, it was a good weekend. If you get an opportunity, check out the Coastal Wilderness of Big Sur. Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. And respect the locals.

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Nothing Compares to Walking on Water

In the span of this often wonderful life each of us has a, or several, first-time experience/s that literally amaze all of our taste buds, “blow” our mind, or take our breath away. Many of us in fact, experience the very same first-time events like,

  1. That hot summer day after several years (maybe 3 – 5 at most) of indulging in vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and suddenly switching to strawberry, rainbow sherbet, or bubble gum ice cream. That was the day my taste buds screamed at me for the first time, “where has this been our whole life?” And they (the taste buds) were right. Where had these flavors been for the last 5 years of my life?
  2. And who can possibly forget the day their mom, dad, or both decided to tell them, “I don’t know what happened to your training wheels. Maybe the “training-wheel burglar” stole them. I guess if you still want to ride your bike you’re going to have to try it without them.” Oh that moment. That awkwardly depressing, yet curiously exciting moment of truth, “Do I really want to ride my bike that bad?” It turns out that you did. And with the assistance of a parent holding the bike in place while you through your leg over the seat, and a mighty push, you were riding your bike. Do you remember? You were officially a part of the two-wheeling wolf-pack with the pavement underneath your wheels and no-limits on where you could go. That is until you crashed on your two-wheeler for the first time, and were humbled for maybe 10 minutes by the bloody knee or elbow.
  3. And how about the event (our first kiss) that Katy Perry and I will remember for the rest of our lives? To say the least electric. And never turning back.
  4. And as I am typing, Chuck Lidell walking into the coffee shop I frequent the most.

At this point in your reading you might thank me for taking you down memory lane, and then ask, “Where are you going with this Fish?” Well, this past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a phenomenal group of ten and eleven year old children to “walk on water.” That’s right,  walk on water (aka, surfing.)

Within this group there were 6 girls and 1 boy. Surf was about 3-5′ (waist to chest high), water was approximately 54° – 56°, and smiles were abound. In addition to looking like a surf team sponsored by Costco (due to every child buying a fantastic beginner board from Costco for $100.00), the group of children looked fearless bouncing around the sand doing exercises, drills, and warm-ups to get ready for the water. To say that these children were unlike many beginning surfers would be an under statement. Like horses at Santa Anita Park chomping at the bit to race, these children were eager to hop in the water regardless of the water temperature, height of the surf, awkward sense of balance, and the fact that it was the big wide Pacific Ocean. Too cool.

Once complete with warm-ups my co-instructor and I split the group up and started pushing them into waves in the inside surf zone. Every now and again a set would roll through that was a bit big for the children to surf, “turtle,” or just prop themselves up, so we would instruct them to hop off their boards, dive to the bottom,  grab sand, and then pop up when they wave passed. When the children popped up like seaweed bulbs at Willow Creek in Big Sur, each of them had smiles from cheek to cheek and ready to catch another wave. It should be known that in addition to the exceptional surf lesson instruction provided, the shear confidence and enthusiasm of these children in the water had a lot to do with their experiences in Junior Lifeguard programs over the summer.

One wave after another we pushed our aspiring surfers in to waves. Some standing up. Some pearling. And others simply riding on their bellies just for the sake of it. After approximately an hour and fifteen minutes of water time and children skimming across the surface of the sea, my co-instructor and I thought to bring the lesson to an end, however our students had other plans. As we attempted to coax them to shore, each of them shouted, “Just one more!” Just one more? For most of these children it was there first or second outing walking on water, and already they had picked up on the “just one more wave” proclamation.

In the end, I don’t think anything (any type of ice cream; riding on two wheels; a first kiss; or seeing Chuck Lidell in your coffee shop) can possibly compare to the magic of walking on water.

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Consistency = Proficiency

Good afternoon from the sunny, and slightly warmer side of the California Central Coast. School has officially started here, and the children are silently (we hope) sitting in their classrooms learning as the temps reach triple digits. Oh how I miss those first days of school filled with cafeteria “goodies,” recess rowdiness, and sitting restlessly listening to the adult at the front of the class mumbling as I day dreamed of swimming pools and beach fronts to cool off. Hmmm… Not really. But it does provoke memories of awkwardly sweating with a parched tongue and having to ask permission to relieve both issues.  Hmmm… How I don’t miss, yet still feel for the trials and tribulations of our youth.

And now, Phill The Flying Fish’s Aquatic Tip #1
Many parents are under the mysterious impression that swim lessons are strictly a summer time activity. Does this make sense? Not really. Think about it. Do we discourage children from reading, writing, and communicating in complete sentences during the summer? I certainly hope not. If we did that where would our society really be when it came to scholastic testing and development? For most things learned (with exception of getting burned by a flame, playing with rattle snakes, and jumping into a pool and not knowing how to swim), Consistency = Proficiency. So if you’re a parent, do your child, and your summer-time swim instructor a favor and continue swim lessons until your child is  pool safe, confident, and proficient.

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Hello world!

From the water, and to the blog I travel to create a realm through which to share my life aquatica. Stay tuned for bubbles, tips, and trips from Phill The Flying Fish.

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