Surfers, sharks and paying rent

By Melissa Espinoza
Flapjack Chronicle

“You yell shark and we’ll have a panic on our hands on The Fourth of July,” Mayor Larry Vaughn of Amity Island from the film “Jaws.” A single word… “Shark”,  is one of the most terrifying words you could hear while out in the ocean, but surfing enthusiasts around the world are trying to break the cycle of fear associated with sharks.

Every month the Humboldt chapter of the Surfrider Foundation along with Humboldt Baykeeper, and Ocean Conservancy host “Ocean Night” at the Arcata Theater Lounge during which they show films, raffle prizes, raise money for each program and most importantly spread the message of ocean and beach conservation. Suitably for its three year anniversary the event was dedicated to raising funds for 45 year-old Eureka native Jay Scrivner who is still recovering from an encounter with a great white shark on Oct. 6.

The film “Surfing&Sharks” (which was selected before the recent attack) is set in Southern Africa and discussed the stigma of swimming in waters known for being densely populated with sharks. Local pro-surfers Lungani Memani, Andrew Lange and Avuyile Ndamase shared their experiences and helped educate viewers about the importance of respecting the water and all of its inhabitants. Ndamase, a 16 year-old from Port St. Johns, a beach that has been closed because of several shark fatal shark attacks including his younger brother in Jan. 2011, has dedicated his life to surfing in memory of his brother.

“I’m going to do this for him, I’m gonna dedicated my whole life to the surf world and surf culture and everything I win. It will be like a dedication to him because that’s what he wanted for the both of us, as our living,” Ndamase said.

Before the film many of the members of the Surfrider Foundation including Jennifer Savage, the North Coast Program Coordinator for the Pacific Program and chairwoman of the foundation, spoke about the recent attack. Jay Scrivner and his wife Sunny also made a special appearance thanking the community for their support and especially those on the beach. Fellow friends and surfers helped save Scrivner’s life by wrapping his leg with towels and applying pressure in attempts to stop the bleeding before getting him to emergency services.  The bite did not sever any tendons or arteries and required about 30 stitches.

Shark attacks are not an uncommon occurrence in Humboldt County and in 2008 Humboldt was ranked No.1 in shark attacks statewide, according to statistics from the Florida Museum of National History.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press from his hospital bed, Scrivner said, “I couldn’t believe it happened. When I turned away from the shark, I said, “Did I really get bit?” Your mind doesn’t believe it.” He continued on to describe the feelings he had in the water.

“There’s just a power in the ocean, when you see a shark or get bitten by a shark, you’re just made critically aware of that power.” 

The most important take away the foundation was trying to convey was the importance of supporting any victims and encouraging them to go back into the water.

Shark attacks should not be made into tragedies or blows to our community,” said Savage. “They are learning experiences and a chance to come together to support each other.”

Scott Willits, the treasurer of the Humboldt Surfrider Foundation and long time friend of Scrivner, said,  “There is always a chance to encounter a shark when you’re in the water, but when a situations occurs it’s important for all of us to support the person who was there.” Willits went on to describe attacks much like choosing a slip with a black dot from the novel “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

“We like to refer to it as paying rent, we have to accept the risk, respect the space, and be aware that we are in their territory.”

According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) surfers make 60 percent of all attacks. Attacks are considered provoked if a human initiates contact with a shark. However most are unprovoked which  makes surfers the biggest target.

Two attendees of the event Saryna Collette, 23 and Josh Suiso, 22, both ocean enthusiasts agreed that Americans have a stereotypically notion of sharks being the biggest predator of the ocean and believe that people should be better informed about sharks.

“Sharks are not man-eaters as depicted in scary movies, said Collette. “They are actually really smart and most incidents occur purely out of curiosity. Biting is a sharks way of investigating what something is. More people need to attend events like this and gain a better understanding of shark attacks.”

Suiso, a Hawaiian native, enjoys surfing back home (where the water is much warmer compared to Humboldt) and while he has not had any experiences with sharks he knows many other people that have.

“Surfing is a dangerous activity on its own but it is a passion and lifestyle, you’re not going to stop because of a potential danger like sharks,” said Suiso, a Beginning Reporting student, was also present to cover Ocean Night for the Flapjack Chronicle.

Humboldt Baykeeper will celebrate its 9th birthday bash featuring DJ Mantease, Samba Da Alegria and SambaDa on Saturday Oct. 26 at the Theater Lounge.

For more information about the Surfrider Foundation visit its website, http://surfriderhumboldt.wordpress.com/

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