Sharks and Surfers: Risks, Tips, and More

Sharks are at the very top of the food chain and if you’re a surfer, you could find yourself sitting right below them. The risk of being attacked by a shark is actually very low, and you are more likely to be injured by your board, the rocks, or the reef. But it’s still a threat, and one that you need to be wary of.

Types of Shark Attacks

There are three types of shark attack.

The first is a hit and run and it’s one of the most common and the most harmless. The shark will appear, bite, and then swim away. The individual usually escapes with a mild laceration, a big shock, and a great story to tell their friends.

There is also something known as a “bump and bite”, and it’s the one you’ll see the most in films. The shark will bump the intended victim, circle them, and prepare for a fatal attack. Thankfully, these attacks are very rare near to the shore and are usually seen in the deep ocean, typically with boats and not surfers.

The final one is the deadliest and can be seen with surfers and swimmers. It’s called a “sneak attack” and occurs without warning. The shark sneaks up on the victim and launches a fatal attack. Before the victim realizes anything has happened, they have been seriously and often mortally wounded.

What is the Risk of Being Attacked by a Shark?

It has been said that your odds are dying from a shark attack are around 400 million to one. Those are some incredible odds, but it doesn’t quite paint the full picture. After all, that statistic looks at the general population and the number of shark deaths that occur during a single lifetime.

If you’re a surfer riding big waves far from the shore, and you stick with the seas around Australia and other shark-infested waters, your odds of coming to harm are going to be much higher.

Think of it like winning the lottery. If you’re an everyday American who lives in-land, doesn’t surf, and rarely ventures near the coast, you basically haven’t bought a ticket. With the exception of some kind of Sharknado scenario, it’s fair to say that you’re going to be okay.

If you’re a surfer occasionally venturing into shallow waters on the Californian coast, you’re buying yourself a few tickets, but your risk is still pretty low.

There are a few other ways to reduce your odds as well, essentially ripping those tickets up and decreasing your chances of winning the shark lottery:

Surf in Groups

Sharks are more likely to attack solitary surfers. If you’re in a group, even if the other surfers aren’t always around you, you’ll be much safer.

Do Your Research

Many beaches send out warnings if a shark has been spotted in the area in recent days. You should always be a little more cautious in these cases.

Wear Darker Colors

The “yum yum yellow” theory suggests that sharks are more likely to attack surfers on yellow boards or wearing yellow wetsuits. It’s true, but it has more to do with the shade than the actual color. The more that your wetsuit/board contrasts against the waves, the more likely sharks are to see you and attack you.

Be Wary of Large Pools of Fish

Whenever there is a lot of fish, such as in river mouths, you’re more likely to find sharks. This is where they feed, and if you suddenly drift among them, you’ll become food as well.

Stay Away if You’re Bleeding

If you have cut yourself and are bleeding, it’s time to get out of the water. As any deep sea horror movie will tell you, blood attracts sharks and will make you a sitting duck.

Stay Alert

Always be on the lookout for sharks and don’t let them sneak up on you. If you see anything suspicious, it’s time to get out of the water! You should also be a little more cautious in murky water as it will limit the shark's visibility and make it more likely that it will mistake you for food.

How Many Surfers Have Been Killed by Sharks?

It has been estimated that over half of all shark attacks involve surfers. It's not known exactly how many there are or how many are deadly, but the number of attacks that involve surfers, swimmers, and boats is thought to be in the hundreds every single year.

There have been a few highly popularized incidents, including when Mick Fanning was filmed being attacked by a shark, but these incidents are incredibly rare. The International Shark Attack File reported close to 130 incidents in 2020, for instance, and fewer than half of these were confirmed to be unprovoked.

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