If you’re worried about a shark attack in Orange County, you might as well start buying lotto tickets; You’ll have better odds. Yet I still get calls, questions, and even customers cancelling their surf lessons because of fears about sharks. On top of that, at Banzai our surf lessons usually take place on a sand bottom in waist deep water. That’s hardly the happy hunting grounds.
But then TV brings us “Shark Week” (which the Discovery Channel cleverly schedules in mid-summer), and that doesn’t help much. It’s become a summer tradition along with barbeques and higher gas prices.
I should mention that my attitude towards sharks is pretty casual; I went on a ‘shark dive’ in the south pacific, and found sharks to be less aggressive than most car salesman and attorneys. During the pre-dive briefing, I asked if we could pet the sharks. Everyone laughed. I was serious. I will add though, that getting snorkel gear on while peering down at those toothy dark shadows swirling beneath you, sets off every old Hollywood alarm bell in your head.
I’ll admit it: I wasn’t the FIRST one in the water, but I was the last one out.
The truth is, sharks are a non-issue in Huntington Beach. That is (according to the International Shark Attack File), in the past eighty years, there’s been four shark incidents in Orange County. Think about that: Four in eighty years.
When you consider that statistic against the hundreds of thousands of bathers and surfers that enjoy the beaches in Southern California every summer, it’s almost a sad indication of our lack of sea life.
But what I think has happened, is that sharks (if they see you at all, which is unlikely) view surfers and bathers as common flotsam; To the shark, we don’t really appear to be food. Which brings me to my favorite shark diving safety tip: Don’t act like food.
Now, that’s not to say that sharks aren’t out there. Of course they are: cute little sand sharks, pretty leopard sharks, … all kinds of PET sharks – squirrelly shy little bottom feeders who didn’t make the cut as ‘MAN-EATERS’, and got laughed out of the shark fraternity and sent to Huntington.
So, I stand by my original statement: It’s a non-issue. And I can recite all the goofy statistics:
• “You’ve got better odds of being struck by lightning”. (Maybe not so comforting to those who wear tin foil hats).
• “You’ve got better odds of dying from a falling coconut”. (Never mind that there aren’t any coconut trees in SoCal, but perhaps that statistic includes those deviants who drop coconuts from aircraft)
Nevertheless, every morning at Banzai, as we’re getting people into their wetsuits and their bright orange tops – which help lifeguards see where the beginners are – we’ll get that one customer who will ask the question. And I explain, “If you DO see a fin in the water, it’s a dolphin, and anywhere else you’d have to pay two-hundred bucks to swim with them. So the reality is, the most dangerous thing out here is the people …. in the bright orange tops”. – Jaz Kaner