Kayaker knocked off boat, comes face to face with great white shark near Pigeon Point
By Allen Bushnel email@example.com
PIGEON POINT -- A 45-year-old kayak fisherman from Pinole angling near Pigeon Point on Saturday came face-to-face with the biggest fish of his life -- a great white shark.
Adam Coca launched from a small cove just north of Pigeon Point on the San Mateo coast. Located within the "Red Triangle," an area described by Año Nuevo on the south, the Farralone Islands to the west and Bodega Bay north, this section of water is known for the frequent sightings and occasional interactions with great white sharks. Coca was paddling his yellow Ocean Kayak Prowler, a 13-foot sit-on-top fishing boat, and had just stopped to fish in about 30 feet of water when he encountered a great white.
"I was south of Bean Hollow off those beaches toward Pigeon Point," Coca said. "I felt it hit the nose of my boat from below, like boom! kaboom! then it flipped the boat over. I was halfway in the water, basically an anchor point as the shark chewed my boat and pushed. We must have done three or four full circles like that." Coca was finally able to climb atop his overturned boat and hugged the stern while the shark continued to chew on the nose.
"I held onto my boat and looked right into its eye," Coca said. "The shark was at least as long as my boat." The great white became tangled in Coca's paddle leash and was distracted by the flailing paddle, toward which it turned and bit, severing the leash. After that last bite the shark submerged and disappeared.
"I flipped my boat back over and jumped in quick like a cat," Coca quipped. "Then I just hung onto the rails and braced for the next bump, which never came."
Alerted by Coca's distress call on the VHF radio, other kayak anglers quickly appeared on the scene and helped collect his floating gear, including the damaged paddle that had a gash in one of the blades.
Despite some water leakage from tooth holes in the bow, Coca was able to paddle his Prowler 13 safely into shore with just a scratch on his shin, and neat triangular holes in one wetsuit bootie and paddling shoe.
The bite marks on the bottom of the boat measured 18 inches at the widest portion of the arc, and the individual tooth marks were about 2 inches apart.
In July 2007 kayak fisherman Dan Prather had an almost identical experience at Bean Hollow. He was thrown from his kayak while a great white chewed on the nose of his boat. Prather also was able to paddle in safely with no injuries.
Santa Cruz shark expert Sean Van Sommeran from the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation is not surprised at this recent interaction or the location.
"It's a matter of acclimation," Van Sommeran said. "Just like the fly fishermen have gotten used to fishing rivers 10 feet from the bears, we have to get used to being in their (shark) territory."
According to Sommeran, "safety while in the ocean is a matter of familiarity and possessing some situational awareness."
Coca is relieved to have escaped his close encounter relatively unscathed. He plans to return to ocean fishing, even at Bean Hollow, as soon as he repairs his boat.
"Oh yeah, you gotta get back on the horse, for sure."
When asked his thoughts while staring at the chewing shark, Coca said, "I have these stripes on the bottom of my boat, a pattern of camouflage, like a home-grown shark shield. I just thought I might need a new pattern."
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