Somewhere in Northern California
March 24, 1995
Death in the air, blood in the water, living in denial

The surf was 4 to 6 feet, choppy and polluted. Things have been getting churned up and deposited on the beach all winter and spring. Logs, buoys, big pieces of unidentifiable plastic foam core, rubber. I was pissed that we couldn't have more pristine conditions for our last day in town. Grommet threw on his suit and darted straight to the water, sand flying up behind him. I stayed with Rob at the car while he waxed his board and we finished a cigarette.

When we reached the beach, I noticed something in the shorebreak that appeared very large. I ran over to inspect and discovered that it was a dead sea lion. It was about 10 feet long and was rolling back and forth with the ebb and flo. I scanned it for teeth marks but there were none. It wasn't a shark that had killed it. I looked closely at it's face to see if somehow it was still alive and then I noticed blood coming out the mouth. Not a lot, but definately visible. The air smelled like iron metal and I began to feel a sense of doom. Grommet had already paddled out and was waiting for a wave. Through the choppy swells, I finally saw him rise up, catch the best wave he has caught in 6 months of surfing and pull out, waving his hand victoriously. He was positioned right in front of the bleeding sea lion.

We surf in what's known as the "red triangle" which spans from Point Reyes to the north, out to the Farallon islands off the coast of San Francisco, down to Big Sur in the south. The triangle is a vast breeding ground for great white sharks and a lot of them stay there to feed on the multitude of seals and other prey. Seals of many varieties congregate and breed on these shores, from Ano Nuevo to Tomales Bay. That's why the great whites are here. There is no point in being over dramatic about the shark situation in Northern California, it is just that way, and we all take our risks with full knowledge of what may happen. Still, a bleeding sea lion on the shore is not a good sign...

Rob and I tried to wave Grommet down, but he was pumped by the wave he had caught and we couldn't get his attention, so I decided to paddle out and drag him down to the south end of the beach at the very least, if not bail altogether and hope for better days at home on the couch, nowhere near the bleeding sea lion. A real sense of dread filled me as I started out. The water was extremely dark and choppy. There was a smell of rusting metal that permeated the air. I felt fear, and my mind drifted into thoughts of what I would do if confronted with one of these great white beasts. The best you can hope for is to get a "punch" in if you have time to see the great predator's face before it took a lunge toward you. I try hard to pay the utmost spiritual respect, so that I might be spared in a moment of hunger or amusement...that's all it is for them. Usually, I don't give them a passing thought, but they are out there, and this session was quickly turning into a jaw-clenching nightmare.


It was something of a chore to catch up to Grommet, but after a few good slaps from mother ocean I made it past the break and paddled over to him. I waved him down immediately, "THIS WAY", was the hollow scream over the wind. He looked confused, wanting to ask why I was making him follow, but he knew that he should. The time was ripe to move and that's exactly what we did.

As we paddled away from the spot, I saw chapter two of our nightmare bobbing in the water. I only caught a glimpse before the water went pulsing down again in an obtuse swirl, and when the swell rose again, it revealed something large, brown and fanned-out. I signaled to Rob and Grommet that I found some other hideous treasure and we all paddled closer. At a certain distance we all stopped cold when we realised that it was a seal flipper. The padded appendage had decayed a bit and had bones sticking out of the ends . We didn't have the nerve to approach the spectacle any closer than a few more feet for fear of being associated with seal flesh in the Great White's dining room. We nervously paddled, very shallow, away from the bony paw and toward the south end of the beach where we hoped to be able to regroup and make a decision about this little adventure.

For a moment, I opted to leave. Lets get back to the car and out of this water now, before we make headlines. I never, in nine years of surfing and living in a big city felt so much at risk of being attacked, horribly devoured and thrust directly back into the food chain. But after a time, the almost black hue to the water seemed to subdue the fear because there was nothing below the surface that we could actually see. When we all reached a spot far from seal corpses 1 and 2, we decided unanimously to keep surfing. From that point on we surfed for about an hour and half in what we deemed "seal soup", catching many good waves and keeping a good eye out for anything out of the ordinary. We gave our fear no chance for survival. We had basically walked out on our jobs and would not be denied the right to this last session, even in the presence of the bloody seal and it's hideous, half decayed sidekick. There are explanations for why we weren't fired from our jobs or why the water is so polluted but there is no explanation for why we weren't devoured that day, except maybe that it just wasn't our time, and somehow we knew it.

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