Stab Magazine | The Crowds Are Thinning In Orange County

The Crowds Are Thinning In Orange County

Shark tales from the Orange Triangle. 

news // May 13, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s 8:37 am and the phone rings. It’s photographer and friend Jason Kenworthy. He has five kids, all of them surf and skate. The posse keeps him plenty busy and when he does find the time to call he usually wants something. 

“Dude, you’ve gotta do something about this,” he says, barely grunting good morning.

“What do you mean?” I ask, trying to remember if I’ve done anything recently that may have rubbed him raw. Immediately I suspect I have.

“Dude! The fucking sharks. You need to do something, dude.” he continues, as if I’m Mick Fanning and can just go out and wrestle sharks.

“It’s getting serious. What are we going to do about them? Nobody’s surfing. You need to write some shit about this,” he continues.

Jason lives in Dana Point and, like so many parents around here, he ritually carts his groms to San Clemente to surf. They frequent San Onofre, Trestles, T-Street, Doheny and Salt Creek. In his blunt way, Jason was alluding to the fact that right now nowhere feels safe.

I spent the remainder of the day talking to friends and soaking in shark stories. The conclusion? Yeah, we’re fucked. As somebody that grew up surfing north of San Francisco in the so-called “Red Triangle,” it takes more than a fin to rattle me, but after hearing the stories of my friends in San Clemente and Dana Point, I’m convinced the ocean is conspiring against us.

“Did you hear about Neco?” says Jason. “Neco Padaratz was giving a surf lesson at Trestles to a couple of groms. He saw a fin, put the two kids on his board and then he got bumped.”

These stories of getting chased out of the water have become commonplace. Multiple originating from Uppers and Cottons. Then, of course, there’s the webcam maven that keeps breaching at Lowers.

No problem, just head to the beachbreaks…right?

“I know of two different incidents where people were chased out of the water at the beachbreaks…by a big one,” Matt Wybenga, a longtime surf filmer told me. 

“I watched a sea lion get chased out of the water at Calafia State Beach,” said a local lifeguard who preferred to remain nameless

It could be that everyone’s on a heightened state of alert. There have been considerably more eyes in the sky. The Orange County Sheriff captured some helicopter footage of 15 sharks cruising close to the sand in Capo Beach that immediately went viral.

“My godson was out flying his drone in Capo, he filmed a 16-footer less than 100 yards from shore,” said a baffled Art Brewer, who after 50 years of surf photography isn’t one to embellish.

Too close for comfort at Capo Beach is the understatement of the week.

“I was surfing out at Strand the other day and a panicked sea lion swam inside of me, in the shorebreak…and it’s not like I was surfing that far offshore. I got out immediately,” said JP Van Swae, the grandson of the great Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison, the paramount California surf pioneer. 

Today my nine-year-old came home with a story too.

“My teacher’s friends were surfing down at Trails at San Onofre,” she explained. “They were surfing off a boat and took a break to have lunch. They were sitting on their boards eating sandwiches when a shark bumped and started circling them.” 

Trails is particularly sharky. I saw a big shark swimming a few hundred yards offshore last week while checking the surf. There was one guy out on a stand-up paddleboard.

From the pros to the grammar school kids, the level of paranoia is mounting with no real solution. In about two weeks the schools get out for summer vacation. In theory, all the junior lifeguard programs and surf camps take to the beaches, but right now there aren’t many people interested in dipping their toes in the water. Beach closures and shark sitings are the new norm. The old guys that hang out the back at Lowers and wait for set waves have been relegated to scrapping on the inside with the groms. 

“Ever since the attack, I don’t see as many people in the water. There are still people surfing, for sure, but the crowds aren’t what they were,” said the lifeguard. “The other thing, there aren’t any seals or sea lions out on the buoys and offshore rocks. They’ve literally disappeared. They’re definitely spooked.”

For the last couple of days, the wind’s been blowing and the swells been dropping. Never thought I’d say this, but that’s a good thing.



Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Can Small-Scale Investors Buy Into Wave Pools?

Say you got $10k and a dream — what can you do?

Feb 4, 2023

Toasted: Reviewed By 10 Of Your Favorite Surfers

Caity Simmers' personal project on paper.

Feb 3, 2023

An Early Pipeline Exit For Stephanie Gilmore Amidst GenZ Glory

Day Two of the 2023 CT season was a clear notice that the kids are…

Feb 3, 2023

Hand-Shaping, Glassing, And Finishing ’70s-Inspired Displacement Hulls Will Not Make You Rich

Profile: Tristan Mausse of Fantastic Acid is in it for all the right reasons.

Feb 3, 2023

Hassling, Head-Dips, and Broken Apple Watches

The 2023 CT is underway. Here's what happened on Day One of the Billabong Pro…

Feb 2, 2023

Stephanie Gilmore And Filipe Toledo Are The 2022 Stab Surfers Of The Year 

Caity and Hughie take Best Juniors, “NOZ VID” wins best film, and Ho and Pringle…

Feb 2, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: The Stab Premium Vote

Day Ten: You voted, we counted.

Feb 1, 2023

Red Bulls, Crypto Bears, Former’s Six-Figure Fish, Tyler’s Multi-Millions And More

A brief catalog of the latest surf industry news and whispers.

Jan 31, 2023


“Definitely The First Time I’ve Gone Surfing Via Plane”

Parker Coffin, Harrison Roach, and friends tear through NZ on Roark's most well-rounded surf trip…

Jan 30, 2023

Pipe Preview: This Year Feels Different

With John and Gabs healthy — and the arrival of the femme next-gen — here’s…

Jan 29, 2023

WSL Tells Competitors: ‘You Better Like Them Apples’

Will mandating competitors to wear Apple Watches make the 2023 tour more or less engaging?

Jan 29, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: John John Florence, Italo Ferreira, Balaram Stack, Rolo Montes, and Shaun Manners

Day 9: "You can't do better than his year last year." - John John Florence

Jan 28, 2023

Full Moon Surfs, Impassable Puddles, And A Few Nights Spent Sleeping In A WSL Commentary Booth

A reader-submitted collection of nonconformist surf stories.

Jan 27, 2023

Kael Walsh Now Owns A Bitcoin, And Watched One Crypto Video

He’s officially your Stab Edit Of The Year champion.

Jan 27, 2023

Carissa Moore And Finn McGill Are Your 2023 Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Champions 

They both pocket $50k and tickets to this year’s Vans Pipe Masters.

Jan 27, 2023


The Pick-Up, Presented By Vans, Episode 5

Mason Ho helps us ring in our final week on the North Shore.

Jan 27, 2023

Goofyfoot Brazilian World Champion Stars In Stab’s Biggest Board-Testing Franchise

Can you guess who?

Jan 26, 2023

Surf Community Rallies To Raise Funds For Eddie Winner And On-Duty Hawaiian Lifeguard Luke Shepardson

Because it's the right thing to do, of course.

Jan 26, 2023