Cambria surfers’ close encounters with a great white shark

Special to The CambrianFebruary 6, 2014 

Pro surfer Mike Klatt, left, came very close to a great white shark off of Moonstone Beach on Sunday, Jan. 26. His surfing friend Pete Anderson, at right, witnessed a great white offshore from Leffingwell Landing the day before, Saturday, Jan. 25. The handmade sign at top left reads, “Shark sighting, beware!” State Parks posts official warning signs for a few days after credible shark sightings but did not learn of this one until more than a week after the fact.

JOHN FITZRANDOLPH — Special to The Cambrian

Sunday, Jan. 26, was the kind of day wave riders crave: Classically curvy sets — 8- to-10-footers — were rolling in to Moonstone Beach. Cambria professional surfer Mike Klatt paddled his board out 50 yards past the rocks that protrude directly offshore from the Santa Rosa Creek viewing area, to a “take-off” spot, like he has done many times for many years.

Out of the blue, 10 feet in front of him, the unmistakable dorsal fin of a shark rose up out of the water. “It was a 20-foot great white shark. I saw all of him,” Klatt recalls. “But he was not aggressive. He was just cruising. So I kept paddling until I was probably 3 feet from him.

“He didn’t scare me away at first because it was such a peaceful encounter. He kept going right by me — just cruising. Even after I realized it was a great white shark I actually planned to stay out there and surf because he was so mellow. It lasted about a minute.

“But then the fear it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to get out of there.” So Klatt turned his board around and, posthaste, rode a wave over the outcropping of rocks.

“It was a dangerous wave I took but it was the only way to get out of there in a hurry. I went straight into those rocks and did a wipe-out, but I felt like I had escaped by that time.”

The bearded, practiced swimmer — who has surfed in Panama, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Mexico — recalls making a fist with his right hand, thinking he might need to punch the great white in the nose. “I’ve had numerous encounters, but never that close. When I made eye contact with the shark, it didn’t show any emotion. I really don’t think they mean to attack humans. But my heart was racing.”

Klatt, a Coast Union High School graduate (class of 1996) who played varsity tennis for four years and later served as a tennis coach for both boys and girls teams, was “frustrated that the shark pushed me out of the water that day.”

He went back surfing the next day “just to get my gills wet and not let the shark dictate my activities. If I had stayed out of the water he would have gotten the best of me.”

Meanwhile, Pete Anderson, a professional surf guide who works at a surf resort in Indonesia eight months of the year, had seen a great white the previous day off of Leffingwell Landing.

“I saw a bait ball — fish were in a feeding frenzy and birds were diving at the churning surface — about a 150 feet away. I kid you not, I saw a dorsal fin sticking out of the water maybe a foot and a half.

“It was definitely a great white. Shoot, my friends were in the water but I didn’t want to get them all riled up. I told them later at dinner.”

Anderson insists that if a person scans the horizon offshore from Moonstone for a whole day, the chances are “you’re going to see a shark out here. I’ve seen them breach — jump out of the water and belly flop.”

It’s no surprise that there are great white sharks in the local waters, Anderson explained. “We are part of the red triangle — it goes from here out to the Farallon Islands and up to Bodega Bay. We’re in one of the highest concentrations of great whites in the world.”

Shark threats notwithstanding, for Klatt, “Surfing is my happy place — it’s meditation.” For Anderson, “When the waves are good we surf several times a day. You get to see dolphins, you’re in with nature. You are involved in personal problem solving, like, how is this wave going to break — and how should I ride it?”

However, another major problem-solving challenge presents itself when a 20-foot great white shark glides dangerously close, interrupting a surfer’s happy state of mind and seriously messing with his meditative moments as well.

If you see something, say something

Moonstone Beach, like much of the shoreline from Cambria north to Ragged Point, is under the jurisdiction of State Parks. State Parks District Supervisor Nick Franco asks that shark sightings off Cambria be reported to his office at 927-2026.

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