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Angler’s Kayak Shark-Smacked

Second Bean Hollow attack in three years raises questions

On Aug.15, experienced ocean kayak angler Adam Coca demonstrated firsthand that lightning can strike twice.

Coca was fishing on his own south of Bean Hollow in shallow water just off the San Mateo coast. Friends from the NorCal Kayak Anglers message board were nearby. In these same waters, kayak angler Dan Prather held on for dear life as a great white first struck and then chewed on the nose of his boat back in 2007.

Many of the hardy souls at NCKA didn’t waste a single fishing day in the aftermath of the first attack. These people aren’t easily fazed. Some were back the very next day. Calm seas and small surf at the Bean are too precious to ignore.

This time, attitudes are different. Prather emerged unscathed; only his boat was done for. Coca’s escape was so narrow it provokes soul-searching. Shark-on-kayak attacks are so rare they don’t merit anything more than voyeuristic, sensationalistic coverage from a mainstream media that doesn’t know any better. At least that was the old thinking.

Coca’s harrowing experience was nearly identical to Prather’s. Without warning, an immense shark violently hit the nose of his fishing kayak, overturning the boat and dislodging Coca from his seat. Coca held on grimly to the bottom of his kayak as the shark thrashed and chewed on the bow, causing pressure cracks and punching several holes in the hull. Eventually the shark tired of its plastic prey and sank out.

Only when he was safe on the beach did Coca fully realize how painfully close he’d approached the margin between walking away virtually unharmed and serious injury or even death. The tough nylon strap of his sandal was sliced, and he had neat triangular holes in a wetsuit bootie. For many kayak anglers, it was a sobering realization.

According to the Shark Research Committee, it was the fourth authenticated unprovoked great white shark attack off the Pacific coast this year. Measurements taken from the bite marks indicate the shark was over five meters in length. That’s roughly 15 feet or better.

2010 has been the year of the shark. Just two weeks prior to Coca’s ordeal, a great white latched onto Duane Strosaker’s wooden sit-inside kayak five miles off Southern California’s Gaviota Beach. In an account on RollorDrown.com, Strosaker wrote that he screamed like a little girl for the ten or fifteen seconds the shark chewed on the nose of his boat.

Who could blame him? Strosaker’s feet were inside the shark’s mouth, protected only by thin plywood bulkhead and decking. Other sightings and interactions have been reported in Santa Cruz, Malibu, La Jolla, and San Onofre, where a juvenile great white was recently captured on camera as it curiously nosed a stand-up paddle board.

The point here isn’t to induce hysteria or discourage people from getting in the water. It’s a fact of life; great whites frequent the California coast. Occasionally they hit objects they encounter. When those are divers or surfers the results are dire. Kayakers usually get away with little more than a story and a scare. 

With that in mind, La Jolla’s large kayak fishing contingent dismissed the incident with shrugs and comments that anything that keeps the crowds down can’t be all bad. The story is much the same among the independent minded Malibu kayak crew.

It’s justifiably different near Bean Hollow, practically a stone’s throw from the huge elephant seal colony at Ano Nuevo. Both incidents took place in the summer, one in late July, the other in mid August.

 Judging by discussions and the tenor of the recent posts at NCKA, the risk of another uncomfortably close encounter with ‘the landlord’ at Bean Hollow is too high for most. It bears repeating. Bean Hollow: two shark-on-kayak angler attacks in three years. The rest of the state? Zero documented, although there have been non-fishing incidents such as Strosaker’s.

For those keeping score, Prather was piloting a red Hobie Mirage pedal-drive kayak when hit. Some were quick to call the drive into question; propulsion comes from a pair of flippers. Not so fast. Coca was on a traditional paddle kayak, specifically a yellow Ocean Kayak Prowler 13. Both were alone; Strosaker too.

Coca’s boat featured bold zebra-striping on the bottom, camouflage intended to deter a shark strike. It didn’t work in this case.

Does color matter? Strosaker’s sea kayak was also red. Considering the risk of getting run-down by a powerboat is higher than a shark strike, at least anecdotally, I’ll stick with my ‘yum-yum’ yellow kayak.

After the first Bean Hollow attack, I asked Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Committee what kayak anglers can do to manage the shark risk. His advice holds true today. Pay attention to your surroundings. Watch for spooked seals or sea lions. Keep an eye on the seabirds (as any angler should). Sea gulls will often hover expectantly over a shark. 

In the unlikely event you find yourself in the water with a shark, try not to panic.

"Hang onto your paddle. Stay close to the kayak to confuse your silhouette so the animal won’t pick you out. A shark has a busy schedule itself. It won’t waste a lot of time on something that doesn’t meet the food profile” Van Sommeran said.

Fish with friends and avoid seal and sea lion rookeries, a great white’s supermarket. Most of all, know how climb quickly back onto your kayak. That fundamental skill is the key to successfully ending many safety challenges. 

For a list of Pacific Coast shark encounters, visit the Shark Research Committee website (www.sharkresearchcommittee.com) and click on Pacific Coast Shark News.

Reader Comments
Back in the food chain! Good read and yes we have a large bite protector we sit on, called a kayak!
Jeff Krieger
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