Surfers share the water with sharks all the time, often at very close quarters. Almost all the regular surfers I know have a story about a dorsal fin cutting through the waves, or a dark shape in the distance. Their relationship with these animals – as I see it from the outside (being neither a surfer nor a shark) – is complex and conflicted. There are some old and vocal surfers in Cape Town who would be happy to see the white shark population in False Bay exterminated, and believe that their numbers are increasing unchecked. Others are in awe of the power of these creatures, and some adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the presence of sharks.
Alan, one of the seasoned veterans of the Shark Spotters steering committee, shared an article about surfers and sharks with the committee a couple of months ago. It’s a heartwarming and inspiring read, quoting people like Farrallon Islands researcher and surfer Peter Pyle, white shark scientist John McCosker – also a surfer – and shark advocate surfers who fight for protection measures to be taken for sharks.
Mark Massara, former head lawyer for the Surfrider Foundation, an organisation that campaigns for protection of oceans, surf breaks and beaches, explains the lure of surfing that many people experience:
Some surfers, myself included, are drawn to the ocean not solely for chance to rip waves but also for wilderness. You can’t have an authentic wilderness experience unless you are part of the food chain, and have a reasonable—small maybe, but real—chance of being eaten by nature. Sharks were here before humans and we’re merely on a temporary visit to their watery home base. I lose interest in an Africa without lions, the Sierras without mountain lions, Yellowstone without Grizzlies, and an ocean without sharks.
The Shark Spotters organisation in Cape Town enjoys the support of the local surfing community – it was actually founded by and for surfers – and I am sure that its growth in effectiveness and reach over the years it has been in operation is partly due to the surfers’ excellent support. What is exciting is that Shark Spotters is no longer simply a beach safety program, but has its own research projects that aim to improve the safety of water users and the safety and conservation status of sharks. Here in Cape Town we have seen the force for environmental good that surfers can be. Perhaps scuba divers can see this as a bit of a personal challenge.
Read the article here.