|Manzanita Reef, with my 12' Klamath tinnie anchored out the back.|
A clean south swell was pleasuring Manzanita Reef, so I anchored my small boat in the channel. The spot was inaccessible by land and essentially unknown, so it was empty.
I watched some nice waves peel through before noticing a few strange things (which really weren’t so strange considering the wilderness location).
The water reeked like dead fish—obviously something was rotting, likely the two sea lions floating upside-down just outside the peak. But they were not dead, because suddenly they righted themselves and swam off, like they’d been spooked. Moments later, dozens of gulls began squawking overhead, circling the baitball that had formed behind me. This was Manzanita’s food chain.
And I was part of it, apparently, because as soon as I stood to slip over the gunwale with my board, something large bumped the bottom of my boat. Cold aluminum didn’t suit the bumper’s taste, so it quickly swished away, affording a classic glimpse of that dreaded dorsal fin, the bane of all sharky-spot surfers.
Right then, a really good set steamed through, head-high and sheet glass, totally inviting, looping down the reef before sputtering into the channel. It could’ve been a rocky, left-hand version of Swami’s on a good day—with no one out.
I felt comfortable paddling away from the boat, as I had done so many times. The wildly unfamiliar was familiar to me: I knew the water’s cold sting, its ominous murk, the reefy hazards and threat of consequence should trouble strike—if I got hurt and couldn’t motor back to the harbor, I was doomed.
I paddled over to the take-off spot and sat up on my board, glancing around for that dorsal fin. The birds and baitball and sea lions were gone, and peace was restored. No worries, I thought, this is sweet. I was alone, scoring at this secret-but-perfect wilderness reef on a weekend while hordes elsehwere were beelining to their favorite Orange County/Santa Cruz/Los Angeles/Bixby Ranch south-swell spots. Good for them, I smirked, inwardly thanking my boat for this session.
About a minute later and 30 feet to my right, a young seal popped its head above water, like they always do, staring blankly, wondering whether you’re some sort of bizarre buoy or a badly deformed elephant seal.
The seal started swimming closer. I didn’t blink or flinch, but I was certainly startled when suddenly a white shark’s head shot from the water and, mouth agape, removed the seal’s head with one clean bite, like it was a Tic-Tac (seal brain flavor), before submerging.
I couldn’t move because I couldn’t believe this was mere meters feet away—a shark mauling a seal. I’d seen it happen before, but from the safety of land. Sitting in the water when it occurred was a completely different deal.
Then there was a loud disruption of water caused by the shark’s reappearance, gnawing into the half-sunken, headless seal. I was soon sitting in water reddened by seal blood, dispersed quickly by the shark’s violent side-to-side motion of its head: much splashing, thrashing, ripping, yellow intestines and chunks of pale blubber flailing about.
Seeing this so up-close was surreal. I might as well have been watching a Discovery Channel “Shark Week” special from the comfort of my couch, Cheez-Its in one hand, Coors in the other.
But the attack ended as abruptly as it had started. The shark ate the seal and left. No birds, no baitfish, nothing. Only a few sinews of guts and a lot of slimy blood. Manzanita was serene once more, my staring-contest-opponent seal now marinating in the shark’s digestive juice. (I’d won by default.)
Of course I was scared, so I got out of there before catching a wave, because once another shark got a whiff of that fresh kill, I could’ve been toast. The waves were good but not worth decapitation.
Back at the harbor, I relayed the incident to a drunk geezer who worked in the tackle shop, emphasizing the part about me not fleeing after the shark bumped my boat.
“You’re real dumb,” he said, handing me a cold can of Coors.