We requested Matthew, an avid kiteboarder, waterman and owner of a kiteboarding school in St. Petersburg, Florida to help offer insight on shark attacks and what you need to know to avoid this grave situation while kiteboarding. I met Matthew through Nick Obea, my instructor and friend from The Kitehouse in the Key West, Florida. Much as the news of Steve Schafer’s shark attack is far from my locale in New York, it hit very close to home. Steve Schafer, you will be missed and we are remembering you and your family.
Education and awareness is important to enjoy kiting.
The common perception people generally have of sharks is not one that was created on a first hand basis. In fact, most people’s understanding does not go far beyond the last time they saw the movie Jaws. Like the delicious and harmless salmon or the fluffly adorable penguins, every year thousands of sharks migrate down the coast of Florida in the early spring.
Unfortunately, the news hit close to home for Floridian kitesurfers and the kiting community. Steve Schafer, fell victim to the first fatal shark attack in the history of the local kiting community in Stuart, FL. While kiting alone yesterday, Steve was spotted by a local lifeguard struggling amidst a feeding frenzy of sharks. His kite went down and it was obvious from a distance that he was in a great deal of distress. As the lifeguard approached on a paddleboard, he pulled Steve out of the water and brought him into shore, where he attempted to perform CPR. It was reported that shortly after his ride to the hospital he passed away.
Shark migration is on the rise and has become an accepted occurrence along the coast of Florida’s water areas and beaches for years. As northern waters reach their lowest temperatures, masses of spinner sharks migrate south along the Florida coast in chase of food sources enroute to their mating grounds. Amidst these schools of sharks are other massive schools of bait fish such as spanish mackerel and mullet. As they head south and pass inlets and areas where the gulf stream comes close to shore, other breeds of sharks are often thrown into the mix. Aggressive sharks such as bull’s and lemon’s are usually the one’s associated with human attacks but are seldom accused of intentional unprovoked instances. Areas like New Smyrna and Ponce Inlet have recorded dozens of attacks in a single day and even several attacks within several minutes. These situations are usually caused by a large migratory feeding frenzy being thrown into the mix of a group of surfers enjoying optimal conditions. As a surfer falls towards the end of their ride they might enter the water feet first, sometimes landing on a shark and provoking a quick bite. In fact it is not uncommon at all for surfers in this area to shout “legs up” in the line up as one person spots a school on their way through.
In the case of kiteboarding, however, the situation is completely different. For the most part, advanced riders spend the majority of their time riding above the water and flying through air. Only when attempting to retrieve their board after a spill are they dragging through the water and vulnerable to shark attacks. During migratory periods, however, this simple action could be a very dangerous procedure as dragging through the water could create a great deal of turmoil and to larger, more aggressive fish, potentially emulate a feeding frenzy. If a rider finds himself or herself in the presence of migratory sharks, especially if other feeding frenzies are visible around, get to shore and keep an eye on your board from a safe distance. Most likely the wind and waves will bring it into shore, otherwise wait for the turmoil to subside and calmly drag out and continue on your way. Obviously, the best option is to stay out of waters that are in the migratory path of sharks.
As an avid kiteboarder, waterman, and owner of a kiteboarding school in Saint Petersburg, Florida shark questions are without a doubt one of the most common things I hear from people getting into the sport or those who are just interested. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never seen a shark while riding and don’t have somewhat of a fear or strange respect for them. It is a simple fact that sharks are creatures we must learn to coexist with.
Next time you go out for a session, please look for potential warnings of shark sitings in your area.