Do you have a fear of sharks in the surf? 

If you’re like 99% of the population the answer is likely yes, but should you be?

Let’s take a look at the facts.

In this post you’ll learn:

  • If sharks actually ever attack surfers, or if it’s all just a myth.
  • What the chances are of ever experiencing a shark attack in person.
  • What types of sharks are dangerous, and must be avoided.
  • New types of shark deterrent technology surfers are now using.
  • How to get over a fear of sharks when you’re surfing.

And a whole lot more. 

Buckle up, and get ready, as things are about to get interesting…


DO SURFERS EVER GET ATTACKED BY SHARKS?

Do surfers ever get attacked by sharks?

Yes.

Is it common?

Absolutely not. 

To get some context, let's get some data from our friends over at the Florida Museum who’ve been collecting shark attack data since 1900.

Here’s what the stats say:


SHARK ATTACK STATISTICS

Over most shark attacks over the past 50 years came within 2010 - 2019, with a total of 799.

Of these attacks only 6.8% were fatal. 


Below is a map highlighting unprovoked surf attacks worldwide:



Here's a table of the ten countries with the most recorded shark attacks:


NUMBER

COUNTRY

TOTAL ATTACKS

1

USA

1604

2

AUSTRALIA

691

3

SOUTH AFRICA

260

4

BRAZIL

111

5

NEW ZEALAND

57

6

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

48

7

REUNION ISLAND

47

8

MEXICO

41

9

BAHAMA ISLANDS

33

10

IRAN

23


FAMOUS SHARK INCIDENTS WITH SURFERS

Although there have been multiple shark incidents with surfers, two stand out as the most famous by far. 


INCIDENT 1. MICK FANNING VS GREAT WHITE (J-BAY, SOUTH AFRICA)

I remember this one like it was yesterday because I was watching it LIVE, yup that's right, on a live broadcast streamed around the world!

If you're not familiar with it, here's what went down...

It was the Semi Finals of the Billabong Pro J-Bay in South Africa, 2015.

The waves were fun, 3-4ft and clean, and Mick was up against his good friend Julian Wilson in his heat. 

Everything was normal until, bang, on live camera you see a Great White Shark breach behind him. 

A split second later, a wave passes and blocks the view of the camera team, and the world is on the edges of their seats expecting the worst. 

A few long seconds go by and you see Mick perched on his board fending for his life from the shark. 

The jet ski safety team race to his assistance, and thankfully get to him in time. 

A crazy sequence of events broadcast around the world, with miraculously no injuries whatsoever. 


INCIDENT 2. BETHANY HAMILTON (KUIAI, HAWAII)

Way back in 2003, a then 13 year old Bethany Hamilton was surfing her local beach with her good friend Alana Blanchard. 

The up and coming future world title prospect going about her day just as any other. 

Then, out of the blue a 14ft Tiger Shark attacks, biting off her arm in the process. 

Thankfully, with the help of other surfers in the water Bethany was able to make it back to land and survived.

Any normal human would never step foot in the surf again, but not Bethany, she'd defy all odds and continue to surf with just the one arm and go on to compete at the highest level. 

Her now infamous story has been shared all over the world, even featuring in a Hollywood Movie: Soul Surfer, that shares her traumatic story.


WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF A SHARK ATTACK IN THE SURF?

Ok, let's get stuck into the data, what is the chances of a shark actually attacking you in the surf? 

There are approximately 70-100 shark attacks annually resulting in about 5 deaths.

THE RISK OF DEATH FROM A SHARK ATTACK IS APPROX: 1 in 4,332,817

To put things into perspective, here is a list of things that you're more likely to die from than a shark attack in the surf:

  • Getting struck by lightning while simultaneously being attacked by a swarm of bees.
  • Tripping over your own feet while running away from a squirrel.
  • Getting tangled in your bedsheets and suffocating in the middle of the night.
  • Being hit in the head by a coconut falling from a palm tree while sunbathing on a tropical beach.
  • Being trampled by a stampede of penguins during a visit to the zoo.

Just to name a few. 

In short, yes there is always the possibility of a shark attacking you in the water, but the odds of it happening are ridiculously slim.


DO SURFERS HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT SHARKS?

Like I mentioned above, sharks are a real concern for surfers regardless of how small the odds of attack are.

So yeah, surfers do have to worry about sharks, but there are some simple things that can be done to minimise risks even further, and put that worry to bed: 


HOW TO AVOID SURFING WITH SHARKS


TIP 1. DON'T SURF HIGH RISK AREAS

This sounds obvious I know, but just by avoiding high risk areas your chances of an attack are reduced significantly. 

Take the US for example, if you avoid surfing in Florida your chances of a shark attack drop massively (Florida has nearly nine times more attacks than the rest of the country combined).


TIP 2. SURF IN DAYLIGHT HOURS

Sharks tend to do the majority of their hunting outside of daylight hours. 

Simply not surfing crazy early in the morning, or late at night will drop your shark encounter chances once again. 


TIP 3. DON'T SURF ALONE

Sharks are less likely to approach a group of surfers compared to a lone individual. Surfing with with other people provides safety in numbers.


TIP 4. AVOID RIVER MOUTHS

Sharks tend to congregate around river mouths and estuaries, as this is where the fish hang out. 

Avoid surfing close to these areas.


TIP 5. AVOID MURKY WATERS

Sharks are more likely to mistake surfers for prey in murky waters, so stick to clear water wherever you can. 


HOW OFTEN DO SURFERS SEE SHARKS?

How likely is it to see a shark while surfing?

It all depends upon where you are in the world, and the types of waves you're surfing. 

If for example you surf in Europe you'll likely go a lifetime without ever seeing a shark. 

If you're surfing in Western Australia however, it might be a once a month occurrence, it really does all depend on the location.

For what it's worth I've been surfing for nearly 30 years and I've seen one shark in my lifetime, and that was from the beach, so for most shark sightings are incredibly rare.


WHAT TYPES OF SHARKS ATTACK SURFERS

Did you know there are over 500 species of shark in the ocean?

Crazy right. 

The good news is that 497 of those different sharks pose no threat to humans whatsoever. 

The bad news however is that three do.

They are:

GREAT WHITE SHARK

  • SIZE: UP TO 20FT 
  • WIEGHT: UP TO 1100KG
  • LOCATIONS: USA, NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AFRICA

UNPROVOKED (NON FATAL) ATTACKS

UNPROVOKED (FATAL) ATTACKS

TOTAL UNPROVOKED ATTACKS

292

59

351

Great White Sharks are the ones that most surfers fear above all others, and for good reason.

They're the biggest, the gnarliest, and they're responsible for almost more attacks than every other species put together. 

So it's no wonder they're the first ones that pop to mind. 

But still, the number of attacks is minuscule, with many experts believing that most attacks are more of a curious, inquisitive nibble, rather than a full scale attack.


TIGER SHARK

  • SIZE: UP TO 14FT 
  • WIEGHT: UP TO 635KG
  • LOCATIONS: TROPICAL WATERS, AUSTRALIA, INDONESIA, GULF OF MEXICO, REUNION ISLAND.

UNPROVOKED (NON FATAL) ATTACKS

UNPROVOKED (FATAL) ATTACKS

TOTAL UNPROVOKED ATTACKS

103

39

142

Tiger Sharks are found mainly in the tropics (sub tropics too). 

Although not as big as the Great White, they're no less dangerous, in fact when they do attack, their fatality rate is higher. 

They tend to swim in deeper water during daylight hours, and come to shore in the evenings, so keep out of the water during these times and you'll be sweet. 


BULL SHARK

  • SIZE: UP TO 11FT 
  • WIEGHT: 225KG
  • LOCATIONS: TROPICAL WATERS, AUSTRALIA, INDONESIA, GULF OF MEXICO, REUNION ISLAND.

UNPROVOKED (NON FATAL) ATTACKS

UNPROVOKED (FATAL) ATTACKS

TOTAL UNPROVOKED ATTACKS

93

26

119

The Bull Shark is known as the most aggressive of the three human attacking sharks. 

Typically, they like to stick the warm shallow waters around the tropics (sub tropics too), and have been known to venture up rivers, and into freshwater lakes too.

They may not be as big as the others, but they've got a temper on them so if you spot one, get out of the water straight away.


SHARK DETERRENT TECHNOLOGY FOR SURFERS

As you'd expect, wherever there's a problem people get to work looking for a solution. 

Which is why we now have a number of technology solutions to deter attacks from sharks. 

Let's take a closer look:

OCEAN GUARDIAN FREEDOM SURF +

Kinda random, but kinda cool at the same time the Freedom + Surf Grip by Ocean Guardian is a deck grip for your surfboard that emits an electrical field up to 4m in diameter to deter sharks. 

https://ocean-guardian.com/products/freedom-surf


SURF BANZ 2

Surf Banz don't use an electrical field, making use of a magnetic fields to deter sharks instead. 

https://www.sharkbanz.com/products/sharkbanz-2

Do these shark deterrents actually work?

Well they claim to at least, but I wouldn't fancy putting them to the test in all honesty. 

But if it puts your mind at ease, they're definitely worth a look.


SHARK TRACKING APPS

Alongside the shark deterrent tech above, there are also shark tracking apps too.

A couple of notable surfing apps to check out are:

OSEARCH SHARK TRACKER

THE GREAT WHITE APP

DORSAL SHARK REPORTS

But here's the thing with these apps. 

I'd like to think that all the sharks in the water are geo-tagged, and easily trackable on these apps, but that's simply not the case. 

Instead it's a much more manual process of users documenting shark sightings, which for me, just doesn't cut the mustard. 

Sure, it's better than nothing, but hardly a hard science solution for staying clear of sharks in the surf in my opinion.


HOW TO GET OVER A FEAR OF SHARKS WHEN SURFING

As with all fears, the first step to overcoming them is unpacking the process in the body.

Once you understand the biology of what's happening to you, it creates a distance between you, and the fear itself.

Just that little bit of space is enough to acknowledge that this isn't something that's happening to you, something outside of your control, instead it's self generated. 

From this perspective, healing can take place. 

Building upon this ownership, using a stoic approach can really help too. 

Understanding the tiny probability of anything ever happening, and understanding what you can do to minimise that chance even further can go a long way to stopping the fearful narratives running through your head in the water. 

Follow along with these steps next time you hit the surf, and see what a difference it makes. 


CONCLUSION

Unfortunately, the possibility of surfing with sharks is something that you're going to have to come to terms with - as they're not going anywhere anytime soon. 

With that being said though, the probability of anything ever happening being so minuscule, you really don't have anything to worry about - statistically at least. 

Anyway, I hope this article has been informative and help put your mind to rest at least a little bit. 

Yew!

Rowan 🤙

ROWAN CLIFFORD

Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life.

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