Silver fog blanketed California’s Monterey Bay on a late August morning last year. For Todd Endris, it was a perfect end-of-summer day for surfing.The lanky 24-year-old aquarium technician zipped into his wet suit and headed to Marina State Beach, two miles from his apartment. As he waded into the surf, a pod of dolphins played in the waves just ahead of him. Other than a few dedicated surfers, the dolphins were the only creatures visible in the bay. Endris paddled strenuously and caught a wave in, then headed out to find another.
Resting on his board 75 yards from shore, he turned to watch his friend Brian Simpson glide under the curve of a near-perfect wave. Suddenly Endris was hit from below and catapulted 15 feet in the air. Landing headfirst in the water, he felt his pulse quicken. He knew only one thing could slam him with such force. Frantically paddling to the surface, he yanked at the surfboard, attached to his ankle by a leash, climbed on, and pointed it toward shore. But within seconds he was hit again. An enormous great white shark had him in its jaws, its teeth dug into his back.
Almost every surfer who visits California’s wild coastline has heard the horror stories: In 1981 a surfer was found just before Christmas south of Monterey, his body bearing bite marks from a great white; in 2004 an abalone diver was killed by a great white near Fort Bragg; and in 2006 a 43-year-old surfer was dragged underwater by a great white off a beach in Marin County — and escaped without serious injury when the shark spit him out. Just last April, a 66-year-old man died after being attacked by a great white while swimming far south of the Red Triangle, in waters north of San Diego. “It’s always in the back of your mind — you know they’re out there,” says Endris.
Shark-human encounters make headlines, but they’re rare; fewer than 50 people were attacked in the Red Triangle between 1959 and 2007. Humans may be mistaken for prey, but some experts say that great whites just don’t care much what they eat. “Anybody who surfs or dives where seals and sea lions are prevalent could be asking for trouble,” says George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Florida, a group that tracks shark incidents worldwide. “You wouldn’t walk through a herd of antelope on the Serengeti, knowing you could be attacked by a lion.”