The advent of “extreme sports” provides the latest form of hair-raising competition, but athletes pushing the envelope is nothing new. Roman chariot racing offered plenty of thrills and spills in front of frenzied fans at the Circus Maximus. Elsewhere, in ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, a ball game resulted in players being sacrificed to the gods.
In that spirit, the perils of play are found in a wide variety of contests worldwide involving awe-inspiring courage and skill — and sometimes even death.
Surfing is awesome. Surfing is cool. And surfing is the only sport in which the participants can be eaten. Ever since bands like Dick Dale and the Del Tones, The Surfaris, and The Beach Boys (most of whom didn’t surf) helped popularize it in the 1960s, surfing has become a global phenomenon, featuring endless summers of tanned bods getting amped, stoked, and tubed. The flip side to this lifestyle sport, however, is the possibility of a vicious shark attack.
So far, in 2020, there have been six unprovoked fatalities by sharks, including three surfers. Most incidents involve Great White, Tiger, and Bull sharks. They occur in coastal waters such as California, Hawaii, and Australia — areas that also happen to be surfing hot spots revered for their ideal conditions and monster waves.
Great Whites are the largest predatory fish on Earth. They also possess an extraordinary array of senses, grow between 15 to 20 feet in length, and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Experts believe that most incidents involving surfers result from a shark mistaking the surfer for a seal or sea lion.
In the majority of cases, once the shark gets a mouthful of fiberglass or a neoprene wet suit instead of fatty marine mammal flesh, it will usually leave the scene — but not always. That initial “sample bite” can also inflict severe and fatal wounds from a Great White‘s 300 teeth, causing the victims to bleed out before reaching shore.