Stab Magazine | The Crowds Are Thinning In Orange County
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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. 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/yxW4DSn9mmc

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.

 

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