With two shark attacks -- one fatal -- on surfers off the coast of California in recent days, the tightening race for the ASP World Title isn't the only thing surfers talked about Thursday morning at Santa Cruz's famed Steamer Lane as opening rounds of the O'Neill Coldwater Classic got in the water.
"I think anytime you have an event where there's a lot of active sea life, shark sightings are a pretty common topic among the guys," Dave Prodan, the ASP's international media director, told ESPN.com. "And with the recent attacks, it's at the forefront of everyone's mind."
Scott Stephens, 25, is resting in fair condition after emergency surgery at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Calif. after sustaining multiple mid-torso bites from a great white shark estimated at 9-to-10 feet long. Stevens was surfing Bunkers, off Humboldt Bay's North Jetty, on October 30 when he was attacked.
"I was paddling out when the shark came up out of the water striking the board and me simultaneously," Stephens told Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee, a nonprofit scientific research group that has been documenting shark attacks along the Pacific Coast of North America since 1963. "I was pulled below the surface and could see the shark, from the head to the dorsal fin, a distance I would estimate to be about 4-5 feet. The shark began to shake me back and forth at which point I struck it just behind the eye and it let go and swam off."
Stephens was able to swim to shore on his own, and a fellow surfer drove him to nearby Highway 101, where emergency personnel loaded him into an ambulance.
A week earlier, in Santa Barbara County, a similar scene played out off Surf Beach near Lompoc, but this one ended tragically. Around 11 a.m. on October 23, 39-year-old surfer Francisco Solorio Jr. of Orcutt died on the beach after being bitten on the upper body by a great white estimated at 15-to-16 feet long.
Solorio's death resulted from the seventh confirmed unprovoked shark attack on the Pacific Coast this year; Stephens' was the eighth, according to the Shark Research Committee.
Back at Steamer Lane, the ASP's Prodan says the surfers know that when they paddle out, they're entering a sometimes wild domain full of all kinds of sea life, some of it quite dangerous.
"It's a risk they take," he said. "It's the reality they live with all over the world.
He added that there have been no recent shark sightings in or around the lineup at the Coldwater Classic. So far.
"It wouldn't surprise me if one of the guys saw a shark, " he said. "They're out there."