As Half Moon Bay surfers Tim West and Chris Loeswick headed toward the water to surf Maverick's late Wednesday afternoon, they looked out at the empty, gray, inconsistent lineup and had the same thought: shark.
West tried to laugh it off. "Watch out for strangers," he told Loeswick, but the toothy vibe persisted through the long paddle, and kept them nervous even after they'd each ridden a wave. Loeswick sat with his legs up on the deck of his board between sets, and West began to wonder: Had they made a mistake trying to surf Maverick's by themselves on a day when the shark aura was so heavy and the lulls were so long?
The waves were 10 to 15 feet on the faces, not quite big enough for real Maverick's, so the pair sat far inside, just beyond the gnarled inside double-up known as Phlegm Balls. On the way back out after his first ride, West saw an outside wave break on the main peak, and he paddled past Loeswick toward it, hoping to dial into at least one legitimate Mav's drop before dark. He was on his belly, maybe 20 feet from the primary lineup, when the shark slammed into his 10' 1" Neptune gun from beneath and launched him into the air. He estimates that he flew about 2 feet above the water and 5 feet to his left.
"At first I thought it was a seal or some seaweed or a boil," West, 25, shaken but otherwise unscathed, said the next day in an interview at his home about a mile from Maverick's. "Then I saw this gray thing just thrashing by my board. I swam away, to the end of my leash, and all of the sudden the thing disappeared and everything just stopped. It went dead calm. I reeled in my board and just paddled straight toward the reef. I didn't even care about waves - just get me into the whitewater."
Loeswick, sitting inside, saw the strike. "I glance up and his board gets shot out of the water, and there's all this splashing," Loeswick, 20, said. "It was surreal. I just freaked out and started calling his name: 'Wwwweeeesssstttt!' I was stoked to see that he was OK. We both paddled as hard as we could toward the rocks. He was maybe 100 feet farther out than I was, but he was so pumped on adrenalin that he just blew right by me."
West: "Every stroke, I was thinking my life was over."
On the beach, the surfers found a fist-size dent in the bottom of West's board, with what appeared to be part of a tooth stuck in it. (A shark expert from the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz examined the tooth fragment on Thursday and determined that it was from a 12- to 14-foot, one-ton white shark.)
Back at their car, West immediately called the nearby Pillar Point Harbor Patrol, where Harbor Master Dan Temko was alarmed but not particularly surprised. Temko said there's been a lot of shark activity around the harbor lately. In his front office he keeps a stack of snapshots that a boater took in June of a very big shark cruising along the surface about a quarter-mile southwest of Maverick's. In August, he said, a dead otter washed up in the harbor; an autopsy revealed that it had been chomped by an "adolescent" shark. And in the past two weeks at least two local surfers have spotted sharks near Ross's Cove, a lazy deepwater left about a half-mile north of Maverick's.
"It seems like there might be one hanging around out there," Temko said. "Maybe more than one."
On Wednesday, Temko ordered his staff to post warning signs in the Maverick's parking lot, although he didn't formally close the spot to surfers or kayakers. He also asked West if he'd be willing to do some TV interviews, explaining that news exposure would be the best way to spread a warning. West agreed, but by Thursday, he was beginning to regret the decision to go public. Some people are cut out for shark-bite stardom; Tim West is not one of them.
"I don't want to be known as 'shark attack guy,'" he said. "I just want to surf Maverick's."
If, however, West can manage to make a little money from the mishap, he's open to suggestions. "If there's someone who wants to cough up a bunch of cash for an interview or something, I'm down. I've got bills to pay."
He's also thinking about selling the board, with tooth intact. "I'm thinking eBay. Dude, I might do that. At first I wanted to just fix it and ride it again, but if I could sell for it two grand, I could get like four new boards."
West was the second surfer to be attacked by a shark at Maverick's. In September 2000, Santa Barbara resident Peck Euwer had a nearly identical encounter and escape in the same area. Like West, Euwer walked away rattled but unharmed, although his surfboard suffered a ghastly raking.
West and Euwer's good fortune, if you can call it that, comes as little solace to HMB-area locals like Kevin Judice, who had to step around a headless sea lion on his way to surf Ross's Cove last week. "Yeah, it's true, neither of those attacks drew any blood," Judice said of the two Maverick's attacks, "but it's a pretty good bet that both of them drew fecal matter."