You’re Not Alone
We stretch, and then in a ritualistic way, we wax up and paddle out. The silence at the line up is a blissful meditation that drowns out the rest of the world.
It feels like we’re alone out there sometimes. But, the roaring noise of waves crashing is a wake up call that says,
“Hey, you’re not alone out here kid!”
Surfing reveals a world that is alive, and forever changing.
The ocean’s energy isn’t the only thing that accompanies us in the water though. The sea hosts some of the oldest and strangest life forms on the planet, and they like to play in the surf just as much as we do.
If you’re new to surfing, you might be surprised to learn that surfers aren’t the only ones waiting in the waves. Many have had their lives changed forever from encounters with creatures of the deep blue sea, and I’m not just talking about sharks.
Let’s look at some amazing animals from the water world that surfers are likely to encounter all over the world.
Sea urchins are some of the oldest organisms on our planet. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Did you know that sand dollars and sea cucumbers are types of urchins?
Surfers mostly come into contact with urchins at reef breaks. They like to live in the nooks and crannies of the rocks around the shore. Urchins are covered in brittle spines that can break off into your skin, causing pain, inflammation, and infection. So watch your step!
Jellyfish are incredible creatures that appear in an abundance of different types. For the most part these little guys are harmless, but even the tiniest of jellies can give you a good sting.
One of my friends was kite surfing in a semi-flat water delta spot, where a river meets the ocean. He powered up for a jump, and as he was coming down he noticed a huge jellyfish with sprawling tentacles right under him. He landed right on top of it and was completely wrapped in the giant jellyfish!
He suffered some sever pain and swelling, but nonetheless survived. That would be a total nightmare for me. Wow, could you imagine being in the water wrapped in a jellyfish’s tentacles?
Jellies keep to themselves, but you should watch out for them in the water. In certain places, beaches become invaded with swarms of them, shutting down surf spots until conditions improve.
These majestic creatures are masters of surf. Some of them use the activity as a hunting tactic, but in general, they’re just having a flipping fun time.
They jet along rolling waves, powering up and down with their tales. Could you imagine being right next to one? How about a hundred of them?
Many surfers have been lucky enough to have such an encounter. In Cornwall, a pod of at least 15 dolphins was captured on film flipping around and ripping waves.
The feeling of surfing next to these beings is hard to describe. It’s remarkably magical and inspiring to say the least. In my local surf spot, a secret beach in the Caribbean, dolphins will drop in every now and then to show off their skills.
While we fumble around, balancing on our boards, they gracefully turn and twist in and out of the waves. It’s nothing short of breathtaking when one pokes its face out of the water and makes eye contact.
Sometimes they’ll go back under, only to return shooting from the surface and flying into the sky, flipping around like an acrobat.
Dolphins are incredibly intelligent beings. They have their own family units, social protocols, and they even have their own language.
Scientists are using artificial intelligence to translate dolphin language. They hope to understand the language by 2021. Maybe one day we’ll be able to have a conversation with dolphins. What do you think they’ll have to say?
Could you picture a whale dropping in on a big wave? Whale … they can and do! See what I did there? That’s exactly what happened at a surf competition in Norway recently.
A couple of orca joined in on the fun and started dropping in on pro surfer’s waves. Orcas are unjustly called killer whales, and some people get a bit freaked out to be close to them in the sea.
They have been subject to decades of abuse and captivity by amusement parks like Sea World. Hunters steal baby orca from the wild to sell them to the water parks. Orcas have attacked their handlers causing a big debate about using them for amusement.
If you haven’t seen it, you should check out the 2013 movie Blackfish directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. It documents the horrid reality of Sea World and Orca captivity.
Orcas aren’t the only whales out there catching waves though. Recently, the north shore of Hawaii saw some humpback whale action when a mother and calf were caught on film surfing the pipeline.
Lions, Cows, and Sharks, Oh My!
Playful and strangely human, it seems sea lions love to surf just as much as us. From Australia to San Diego, sea lions have been spotted ripping it up.
Although generally harmless, adult male sea lions, no matter how cute, can be aggressively territorial. A pup might want to jump on your board, but better to keep your distance from these guys. They can be fiercely adorable.
Some cultures refer to these gentle giants as sea cows, or sometimes sea wolves. They’re not likely to hang ten with you, but you could have a chance to kick it with one if you like to SUP or kite surf.
Manatees are pretty popular with Floridian stand-up paddlers. Check out the encounter these surfers had with some sea cows in Jupiter, FL.
Thanks to the movie JAWS, sharks are seen as dangerous attackers by many, but let me break the news to you now. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning or die in a tornado than from a shark attack.
In shark territory, fearless wave riders understand that the ocean is a shark’s domain, not theirs. They learn to live in harmony with them.
Shark attacks happen every year, yes. But, truth be told, we kill about 2 million sharks for every 1 human that dies from an attack. Sharks often confuse surfers or body boarders for wounded prey in the ocean.
I would like to believe that sharks are kind of like bees. Leave them alone and they won’t bother you. However, some are notoriously aggressive when they’re hunting.
For the most part, it seems like our water world friends are happy to have us surfing alongside them. Learning to share the ocean with its inhabitant is an ongoing process though.
Life crawled out of the oceans billions of years ago onto land. Then we came along. And thanks to our accomplishments, surfers are encountering more than just the water world creatures that I mentioned in this article.
Stay tuned for part II of “More Than Surfers In The Sea”. In part II I’m going to show you what else is waiting for us out there in the water. Trust me, it’s a lot scarier than tiger fish, great white sharks, or killer whales.