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Surfing with the Sharks

While growing up in Hawaii and California, plastic surgeon Dr. McClure never developed the leisure activities that occupy many physicians; tennis, skiing, golf. He was devoted to surfing. The limited leisure time Dr. McClure currently has is spent at northern California’s surf spots. The professional newsmagazine of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons featured Dr. McClure and his avocation in an article, read here, which also described his encounter with a great white shark. 

Scan 2 copy“I was out on the waves with my son who sometimes surfs with me. It happened very quickly. The surfer who was attacked was a friend of mine. The shark had sandwiched the surfer’s ankle, knee and surfboard in one bite. The surfer got out of the water and I put pressure on the bleeding and started an I.V. until a helicopter arrived to take him to the hospital. He had a lot of deep lacerations and one of the shark’s teeth was embedded in his knee joint, but his leg was saved. He had to stay out of the water for 6 months.”

This first attack was in October of 1997. Exactly 10 years later, to the week, Dr. McClure was surfing at the same beach, appropriately named “Shark Pit,” when an acquaintance was bitten the upper arm and shoulder by a great white shark. 

“This one I didn’t witness, since we were about 70 yards apart. I did notice a commotion in the water but didn’t think much of it until I saw fireman paramedics arrive at the beach to take the surfer away. It was only an hour later after I paddled in that I heard that this surfer had been bitten.”

dillon-beachDr. McClure still surfs the same beach in the autumn when the waves are best. Unfortunately, that is when the great whites congregate. He says there hasn’t been another “encounter” at this beach these last 11 years. Though he gets “spooked” at times, the plastic surgeon figures that the odds of getting attacked are pretty small. “If great white sharks liked eating humans, there’d be attacks every month instead of every few years.” No northern California surfer has died from a shark attack since the mid-eighties.

As an aside, global climate change has warmed the local waters, which has changed shark behavior. Multiple new sighting of groups of juvenile great white sharks have been reported just south of Santa Cruz. Three years ago in September, Dr. McClure was stand up paddle-board surfing with a friend just south of Santa Cruz, when they spotted four juvenile great whites swimming beneath them over the course of a morning. Dr. McClure’s stand-up surfboard was ten feet long. The fourth shark was longer than his board! They decided it was time to paddle to shore. 

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