Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Post Surf Report

Rainbow, St. Augustine Beach, Florida  
photo by mike marcellino copyright 2009

Post Surf Report: St. Augustine Beach

By Mike Marcellino

Digging into the Internet to find data on shark attacks in the waters off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida probably wasn’t the writer’s best idea.

Sharks attacks are six times more likely off the northeast coast of Florida than in Hawaiian waters.  About an hour south of St. Augustine, lies New Smyrna Beach, known as “the shark attack capital of the world.”  “Great tourist line,” he thought.

It had been a dozen years since the writer had surfed northern Florida. At least he body surfed a few weeks before starting to research shark attack data for his new surfing blog -The Post-Surf Report. The writer chose the title of his new surfing series appearing in his Networked Blog, “The Point of the Whole Thing,” because it reminds him of cereal and The Washington Post

After his absence for his first love, surfing, the writer body surfed nearly every day since he arrived in St. Augustine Beach in mid September.  No hurricanes, a real draught.  Too bad, hurricanes bring bigger waves to northern Florida, but not this year. 

On his first day out, the writer was relaxing, treading, floating on his back in waters over his head when he heard,

“A shark hit by board.” the surfer said, passing by.  The waters were dark blue to black and murky.  The young surfer’s comment was dumb but unsettling.  “Why bother to tell me that?” the writer thought.  The waves were ragged, breaking fast, but he caught them whenever he wanted, some three feet high.

“He was as big as me,” he added.

The writer looked at the guy, without expression or a word. 

In the water, he thought about sharks, sometimes, not often. Once, a shadow freaked him out, but he realized it was his own, visible when the sun flickered.  Near record heat in Florida into the middle of October until a cold front finally came through.  He didn’t think much about sharks onshore. 

He told another surfer as he swam further south about the shark comment.  “He probably wanted to get you out of the water,” the surfer said, casually.  He added, “There are sharks out here all the time, especially when the mullets are running.”  The mullets come into the Atlantic from the Matanzas River south of Crescent Beach, just below St. Augustine. “Matanzas” is a Spanish word meaning “massacre.”

“How comforting,” the writer muttered to himself.

“Less talk about sharks, the better,” thought. 

Surfers, or swimmers, are more likely to die from a bee sting, or get struck by lightening, than get bit by a shark. 

That’s true in St. Augustine Beach, or any beach in Florida.  Surfers are the object of 57% of shark attacks.  Da, surfers are in the water much longer than swimmers and in deeper water there’s more room for the bigger sharks.

According International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, these species of sharks most often attacked people in Florida waters from 1944 to 2008: Bull, Spinner, Blacktip, Hammerhead, Nurse, Tiger, Lemon, Sandbar, Blue and Mako

The writer started getting rather fascinated by sharks while writing his first surfing Internet column.  Searching, he discovered The ReefQuest Center for Shark Research maintained by Alex Buttigieg of Malta

Here’s the opening message on Alex’s website, Sharkman’s World Organization to Save and Protect Sharks:

For hundreds of years, Mankind has feared this creature. We have been brainwashed with visions of Shark Attacks, from stories and legends passed down from one generation to the next, from paintings, books, news papers, cinemas, etc... But what are the real facts? Are Sharks truly monsters of the deep? Are they all Man-eaters? What makes them so misunderstood?  Should sharks be protected?

These questions and many others will be solved in these pages. Together we shall take a look and find out the facts. So if you are interested, and want to learn more............. Keep an Eye on this page, I guarantee you will not regret it.

You enter his site by clicking on the skeleton of a shark with his mouth wide open (reminiscent of “Jaws,” which the writer never tires of watching.)  Alex’s site won an award for the best personal website in Malta.  The writer wonders just how many people live in Malta (403,532) and how many Maltese have websites (a few are written in the Maltese language).

In the world, Sharkman’s World Website is the No. 530,810 most popular Website in the world, while is No. 81,834.  Putting this in some perspective the Website of the New York Times is No. 202. 

The writer found that MySpace is nearly three times more popular than Facebook, according to his unidentified website source.

The writer couldn’t resist by adding that the Vatican (Holy Sea, sorry, a surfer’s slip, make that See) only has 11 most popular sites, all the sites are inside the Vatican. Faith really reaches out.  Here’s No. 1 in the Holy See -

The most popular site in Vietnam reveals times really are changing.  The most popular Internet site today in Vietnam, site of America’s longest war, is all about hotels - .    

Back to surfing.

In the water, surfers talk little, about sharks or anything, except a bit with their friends, but not much them either.  Surfers are doers, not talkers.  Surfers live in a world of their own, one that’s as hard to describe as feeling a surfer gets shooting in the curl of a big, well formed wave in glassy water.

The writer did meet one surfer, Cameron, and the two talked while waiting for a wave worth riding.  Cameron’s from Louisiana.  The writer found out he works as a deep sea diver repairing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  A good photo feature story some day, the writer thought.

A few girls surf St. Augustine Beach and they’re pretty good too.  They are even more laid back than the guys.  Their bodies seem to melt on their boards.  So far the writer’s spotted a few good surfers – one wearing a light blue suit, another in a dark blue suit and another with long bleach blonde hair. 

Surfers do acknowledge either other on St. Augustine Beach.  Walking the quarter mile back to where he got into the water, the writer passes surfers, boards under arm.  Usually, they give a knowing glance, a nod, maybe a word or two, like “hey.” Nothing profound.  Sometimes surfer boys, or skateboarders, about the same age as the writer when he started body surfing in California, say hi to the writer as he peddles his borrowed three speed girls’ bike along A1A, the highway hugging the shoreline along St. Augustine Beach.

Before the cold front dropped temperatures from near 90 to the 60s, the writer caught his best wave.

His timing was just right. The surfer’s arms stretched, cut through the wall of the wave, body straight.  He was in the right place at the right time, inside the wave, already covering him.  He felt himself shoot, fast, right out of the front of the wave.  He sailed outside the wave.  He flew in air, inside the mouth of the wave. 

The writer didn’t think about sharks that day.  In the late afternoon, unexpectedly the ocean had flattened, the waves took better form, rising and falling more gradually without much white water.  The wave could have been four feet or more.  He can’t categorize or define the feeling he got on that wave.  Other than looking out not to get run over by a surfboard, the writer find himself along body surfing in the ocean. 

How does surfing make the writer feel?

If everything goes right, it’s like shooting down a small mountain of water.  You’re part of the wave, you’re faster than the wave, then you free of the wave,” he says.

Nature gives signals on the beach, like reflections of distant thunder clouds – all shades of blue, white grey - illuminated by setting suns in flat sand pools onshore. (That signal led him to write a poem song, “Spirits of St. Augustine.”)

Nature sent another signal the day before the writer shot out of the curl in a four foot wave.  After light, warm showers on and off most of the day, in late afternoon the clouds broke, scattered and the writer biked to the A Street inlet. 

On the beach, the writer was startled.  He looked north and saw distant giant rainbow circling the horizon from Jacksonville to some unknown spot in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

As a 7-year-old, Mike Marcellino lived two blocks from the ocean in Long Beach, California.  For four years, he body surfed every day except in winter. He never wore a wet suit. 

In 1968, Mike board surfed off Bondi Beach, Australia. He was on R & R (rest and recuperation) from the Vietnam War, where he served in the U.S. Army as a combat correspondent and photojournalist.  He wrote a poetry song about surviving those eight days near Sidney and recorded the piece, “Bondi beach.”  You may listen to the song at  In his research, Mike discovered Bondi Beach is the third most shark infested waters in the world. 

Mike board surfed off St. Augustine Beach in the 1980s and 1990s.  Away from the ocean for 12 years, he returned in the later summer of 2009 and began body surfing off Florida’s northeast coast.  He loves surfing and looks forward to getting a used board, a long board.  Contact Mike by email at

The photo above is a Blacktip Reef Shark, Pacific cousin to the Blacktip Shark found in waters off the Florida coast.  The Blacktip can be six feet long and is responsible for 28 unprovoked shark attacks against humans.  They are responsible for 16% of the attacks that occur in Florida water, often striking surfers.

The Post Surf Report, copyright by Mike Marcellino 2009