I have been stand up paddling for the last 5 years traveling the world chasing waves, paddling long distance ocean channels and coastlines and racing. The sport of stand up paddling gives you such a great view of marine life as you stand on top of your board paddling through the oceans and lakes. I think that is one of the most intriguing beauties that makes stand up paddling so inviting. “You are your own captain of your ship, exploring the waters of the world”.
Ever since I have been stand up paddling, I have witnessed some unbelievable moments of mother Natures creations paddling in the ocean. I have had a Blue whale breech in front of me, startled a huge Marlin sunning itself on the surface, paddled along side dolphins, Grey whales, Whale sharks, Thresher and Mako sharks and in the last 2 years several Great White encounters.
For someone who rarely paddles in the ocean; this could be pretty scary, but for someone like me who spends almost every day in it, It is magic.
San Onofre beach has been known for hundreds of shark sightings; in my opinion because of the Power plant that sits just South of the beach park that uses the salt water for cooling and the warm water that flows back in attracts big numbers of fish and marine life and this coastline has been a known breeding ground for several sharks for over a hundred years.
For the last couple of years paddling that stretch of beach, many of us have had Mako, Thresher and Great White sharks swim under and around us while SUP surfing in the line up. The sharks have always been there; it’s just until now because we are standing up on our boards paddling, that we have a better view of what lurks below. Most of the sharks we have seen vary from 6′ to around 10′ in length with a couple rare sightings of 12′ and bigger. With a huge abundance of fish, these sharks are fed well and have only been curious of what else shares their waters.
It’s become a normal occurrence where someone has seen a shark just about every other day. The more you see them, the more comfortable you get which in turn can be a mistake, being that these kings of the sea are still very wild and unpredictable. In the past 2 years I have had some very long encounters where I have had a shark swim around me off and on for a couple hours. I would paddle around chasing down waves and like a puppy dog, it would be waiting for me just outside the surf zone. Kind of creepy, but it has always captured my own curiosity as well. It’s like being in Africa and stumbling across a lion or tiger in the bush or even fishing in Alaska and seeing a grizzly bear catching fish in the same river your fishing in.
I have always wanted to take a photo of these sharks that swim along side us, but every time I took my water camera with me, I would never see one. Then finally, after SUP surfing with a couple good friends one afternoon where we had a 7′-8′ shark circle us off and on for a half hour, I was determined to get a photo the next day. I rigged up an extension pole with one of the new GoPro HD HERO water proof cameras and paddled out on my 12’6 Hobie SUP race board to the same spot we saw the shark the day before and within 5 minutes there he was.
It was a little freaky because I was looking forward and as I was scanning the horizon I accidentally startled the shark which was just behind me and as it took off, it’s tail hit my board bringing me to my knees to keep myself from falling in the water. After a moment of confusion and clarity; I stood up and set up my camera rig to take photos. A couple minutes passed and shark was no where to be seen. I had blown my only opportunity to capture a rare moment and then he appeared about 4o feet off the nose of my board. I’m not quite sure if this was the same shark or a smaller one. He made a couple wide passes and then came pretty close to where I could follow him swimming past with the pole cam. I shot a couple shots and then changed the setting to Video mode and was lucky to capture a couple really cool clips of him circling before taking off. I paddled around searching for him and caught a couple more waves and paddled in.
Finally, I had some photos and video that I could study and share with friends. When I got home that night, my wife and I went over the photos and video and were blown away at what we saw. It was a 7′-8′ juvenile Great White shark that looked pretty Gurthy around his mid section. Totally stoked on my find, I put my video on Vimeo and posted it along with a couple photos on my Face Book to share with my friends. To my surprise; the next morning I was bombarded by phone calls and emails about the video.
I had no idea that this was so out of the ordinary because we see these sharks almost every day. I was completely shocked at the mayhem that ensued shortly after. The shark video went viral world wide and by the next day had over 1.2 million views. I was contacted by several Shark specialists and marine biologists along with the whole alphabet of world wide news like CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, you name it.
Long story short it has been a major learning experience for me with a lot of good and also some frustration. While most of the world seemed totally shark crazed and happy there were the few who didn’t approve. My mother and sister was one of them who made me realize that yes I was very lucky to come away from that experience alive and that perusing the shark is not a good idea. I also got an ear full from the local surf schools that were losing business because the parents saw the video and did not want to send their kids back in the water. I totally understand their frustration but can’t take the blame for filming something that has been going on for over 50 years. It’s basically what I call ” out of sight, out of mind mentality “. The video went world wide because everyone shared it and it turned into a whole new animal.
That being said, I have learned a great deal on how precious life is, our curiosity can, down the line get us into trouble, with every action there is a reaction, listen to your elders, and if your passionate about nature and life itself; be grateful and share it with everyone.
Words of wisdom – I was lucky and the next person may not be. Leave the shark exploring to the experts and divers of the world and Shark Week. Respect and protect nature and it’s surroundings from a safe distance and keep the ocean and our world clean.
Thanks for listening to another one of my eye opening adventures.
In the SUP world, the Rainbow sandals Battle Of The Paddle is recognized as the SUP World Championship, where all the top SUP racers in the world come together to battle it out in the most challenging race ever. This years event was a 2 day event held in Dana Point at Doheney state beach where the beach was covered with SUP industry tents, boards and thousands of people waiting to see who would win the world crown.
Full story and photos soon…..
The Hobie Hennesseys US Paddleboard Championships were held in sunny, warm Redondo beach. There was a great crowd of prone paddlers and SUP paddlers which continues to grow like wild fire. This was a tough race to get ready for because I was fighting a pinched nerve in my back from a bad wipeout in Tahiti a couple weeks before. I went to Dr. “G”, Gary Arthur, founder of Health in Balance in Laguna beach, who is a highly respected Chiropractic Kinesiologist that works with several professional athletes in keeping them in peak performance for competition. He helped educate me about my body mechanics and put me through physical therapy and damage control and taught me how to stretch and listen to my body as I train. As an athlete; you are always going hard and sometimes you forget and have to really stop and slow down and listen to your body so you can keep charging at a high level. None the less, I still had a race to do and went for it anyway.
I paddled my Hobie 18′ unlimited race board and a new custom Kialoa race paddle (86″) long. The race started out with the usual rolling start where everybody gets so excited and keeps paddling past the start and then the horn goes and your off. I held the lead for a short while and good old Danny Ching starts grinding next to me and finally passes and I’m playing follow the leader.
After we round the first buoy, my shoulder starts to go numb and shortly after, then my hand. I struggle with getting a good grip on the paddle as i stroke on the Right side, but I am determined to keep going because that is what your stubborn mind tells you to do. I round the 2nd buoy and really start to notice a lack in board speed as Thomas starts to get closer. I give it all I have just to keep my sanity and start to have problems feeling the paddle every time I switch to my right side. I round the 3rd buoy with one more lap to go and I decide to pull out of the race. This was one of my hardest decisions to make, because you know you can do it yet your body is telling you otherwise and you think about your sponsors and fans and even yourself; how you let everyone down and you failed. This was a very humbling decision that I will never forget, but it was the right decision and I learned a lot about myself and what it takes to stay on top of my game plan and keep myself healthy to fight another day.
All of us go through this type of thing in different ways every day and it’s a healthy and exciting learning process that makes life such a great challenge to be the best you can at anything you choose.
The Hobie Hennesseys Paddle race was held in Dana Point at Doheney state beach. The conditions started out with a light wind out of the North West and as the race started, it cranked up to about 18-20 mph making the first leg of the race a solid down winder. Then as we rounded the down wind buoy it became a major battle up wind and that is where I started to pick people off.
I paddled my Hobie 14′ Carbon race board that worked well in the chop and because of it’s shorter length compared to my 18′ unlimited, the board never got pushed around and was easier to keep a straight line while paddling.
I managed to bend my knees more and really crouch in the wind while paddling and that really helped in keeping myself focused on over taking some of the unlimited paddlers that were in front of me.
I managed to finish in the middle of the unlimited class and win the 14′ class again. I hope to see the 14′ class build more for racing in the future.
In Southern California we are blessed with beautiful weather year round . We don’t get the super cold Winters, below 0 temperatures or even that much rain, but come March there is always some South swell in the water and beautiful sunsets.
I love to run down to the beach after work with my dog “Wade”; my 3 year old Newfoundland. the beach is still uncrowded and always the best place to watch a sunset.
When you don’t get the big waves at home, you have to go find them. Anytime the buoys are showing 15′ ft or bigger with light to offshore winds, I’m out the door on a mission.
my phone is ringing off the hook and I’m glued to my laptop studying weather and wave models on the internet to make sure I know where to go to get the best conditions and the best waves. Sometimes it’s a gamble, but that’s what makes it an adventure.
On this particular swell, we had a ton of wind and rain moving down the coast, but there was a small window showing a break in the weather with promising conditions. My partner in crime, Eric from Towsurfer.com and photographer Fred Pompermyer.
We left at 3 am in poring rain and wind all the way up the coast and about an hour from our final destination the weather broke and everything got super calm. We had our sights on a mini slab that always gets super good with a West swell.
We got to the boat ramp, set up the skis with rescue sleds and packed our tow boards and my SUP surf board and paddle, suited up and off we went. Conditions were so perfect, we couldn’t believe it. We got to the off shore slab wave and I will let the pictures show the rest of the adventure and yes, I took a good couple beatings this day; making it that much better.