Stumpy made her movie debut in the BBC documentary I had seen, and won Scot an Emmy for cinematography. During the first furious hit the board snapped in two and shot into the air, and as the camera dispassionately recorded the wreckage, Stumpy resurfaced and gave the bobbling pieces a fierce backhand with her tail, before swimming off grumpily in search of real food.
None of this seemed like the best testimonial for the sport of surfing.
And yet everyone involved with the Shark Project surfed. In fact, Brown had actually been attacked by a shark while riding waves in Palm Beach last November. "Yup, I'm a statistic," he admitted the night before when I asked for details. "I wouldn't say I was attacked, though. It's more like I was bitten." By seventy-six teeth, to be exact. Waiting for a set, Brown had felt some pressure on his foot and looked down. All around him the water was red. Holy shit! Look at all that blood, he thought, not quite realizing it was his own. He never saw the shark, but after examining his wounds he concluded that it was a sand tiger, a spooky-looking, snaggletoothed shark that eats fish. And in the turbid Florida water, flashing white feet can look an awful lot like fish.
Peter grew up as a surf rat on the beaches of Oahu. Every day after school he'd run to grab his board, a hulking ten-footer that he'd bought for four dollars at a garage sale. (The deal might've had something to do with the board's sky-blue patina of lead-based paint, which would chip off and lodge under Peter's toenails.) Even as surfing gear improved and evolved over the years and his friends began to do flamboyant tricks on the new shortboards, Peter always preferred the big logs. Longboarding was more soulful, he felt, more in tune with the ocean. Whether other surfers agreed with these esoterics or not, there was at least one advantage to a larger board: It didn't look quite as much like a seal. (Boogie boards, apparently, were the worst.)
"I know exactly how I'd do it," Peter said now, gesturing toward the wave. "But to get into the water here . . ." His voice trailed off.
"Well, maybe you could try it in April," Scot said. Shark attacks in the spring were rare. Even so, he didn't sound too convinced. He had only recently taken up surfing, and was openly cautious about wave selection. With good reason. While the Farallones provided a convenient drive-thru for seal-hunting sharks, it was certainly not the only place around here where you'd think twice about getting on a surfboard. All of Northern California is sharky, so sharky that the area extending from Tomales Bay in West Marin County to the Farallones to Monterey is known as the "Red Triangle." More attacks by great whites had taken place in this pocket region than in all the other shark hot spots of the world-combined. Close to home near Inverness, there were a handful of surf spots that Scot wouldn't even consider.
"North Beach and South Beach," he said. "I won't go there." These beaches were just north of the Point Reyes Lighthouse and featured nearby elephant seal colonies. Both areas had strong undertows and rogue riptides and wonderful ambush potential and, of course, seals, all of which add up to precisely the type of arrangement that great white sharks like. There was also an ominous place near the mouth of Tomales Bay called Shark Pit, where surfers had recently encountered three white sharks in a single day. Concerned, one of them asked Scot, What's going on? Had there been a sudden influx of seals? Was it the full moon? The red tide? The new yellow wetsuit someone was wearing?
From Chapter One of The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey. Copyright Susan Casey 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Henry Holt.
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