Peak 3 of 6: Cucamonga Peak

Peak three of six had me second-guessing that I was actually still in Southern California…

Beautiful redwoods dwarf any palm tree.

Beautiful redwoods dwarf any palm tree.

Taking in all the hobbit potential...

Taking in all the hobbit potential…

The Hike: By far one of my most favorited hikes during this challenge. For the first 2.6 miles, you’ll be hiking the Icehouse Canyon Trail, which features beautiful lush foliage alongside a rushing creek. There are also cabins and cairns to ogle at, which make this place look like anything but Southern California. Eventually you’ll make it to a rock quarry-looking area where you can observe very interesting geological rock formations. But don’t get too distracted—it’s easy to lose the trail. Veer towards the right in this quarry-like setting and you’ll come to the 2.5 miles to of the first chunk of the trail, which takes you through more exposeswitchbacks and eventually to the “Icehouse Saddle.” It is during this portion of the hike where you will climb the most elevation as the saddle puts you at about 7,600 feet.

Once you get to the saddle, you can go one of three different routes. I completely geeked out because not only could I see a beautiful forest view into the valley, but I also found more trails/mountains to hike.

Signage will point you straight onwards for another 2.4 miles towards Cucamonga Peak. This trail has a lot of loose gravel, and due to frequent landslides, the gravel often covers up the tiny trail itself. This makes things slippery, so proceed with caution.
And just like this hike description, when you think it’s never going to end, it does. And the view of the inland empire and Apple Valley is spectacular. If there are clouds around, they tend to make your photos look pretty damn cool, too.

Driving Directions: From the 210 east towards San Bernardino, exit Base Line Drive, make a right onto Pahua Drive and a right onto Mount Baldy Road. The trailhead is located at the end of Mt. Baldy Road, and there is a lot for those who have Adventure or National Park passes. You can also park alongside the road without any ticketing consequences.

Back in the day, California was filled with volcanoes...still was a hot place to be. ha! I'm here all night.

Back in the day, California was filled with volcanoes…still was a hot place to be. ha! I’m here all night.

You'd walk right past it and never give it a second thought, but don't forget to check out the old gold mines.

You’d walk right past it and never give it a second thought, but don’t forget to check out the old gold mines.

Roundtrip mileage: 15 miles, 8 hours

Elevation: 8,859 feet

Elevation gain: 4,000 feet

What to bring: Water, snacks, hat, sunscreen, phone/camera, Adventure Pass

Consider this: There are so many cools sights to see along this trail that you tend to forget to sip your water. Cabins, cairns and igneous rocks can easily distractify, but don’t forget to do a sanity check lest your lungs do it for you. Also, be sure to look for the old gold mines along the trail. There’s no signs that point them out, they’re just kind of chillin’, so be on the lookout. If you’re heading toward the peak, they are on your right…because to your left is a straight 1,000 foot drop.

 

 

Peak 2 of 6: Sitton Peak

Peak two of six made me consider bug spray! Just when I thought it was safe to wear shorts and a tank top…

The scrubby trail to Sitton Peak.

The scrubby trail to Sitton Peak.

The Hike: A local peak always sounds great, right? Find the Bear Canyon trailhead located behind the old -fashioned Candy Store off Ortega Highway. It’s easy to miss this trailhead, so if the store is open, there’s no shame in asking about the trail location. The store also offers free printed maps. This trail requires a wilderness permit, which is often available at the trailhead to fill out. If not, bring a pen and paper and leave your info in the box.
The hike begins at a moderate pace and is lined with brush and large boulders. It meanders over a creek where there are plenty of trees for shade, although there isn’t much shade elsewhere on the trail. Since there are some areas that appear to be overgrown, I was getting mountain lion vibes, which reinvigorated my machete desires. Since I was sans machete, I sang Yankee Doodle very loudly and made lots of noise as well as carried a walking stick and a rock.

The last portion to the peak is almost a literal climb. At first, it didn’t even appear to be an actual trail since it was pretty steep and looked washed out, but it is and your calves will thank you for the luscious workout.
I started around 10:00am, made it to the peak by just before 1:00pm and back to my car at 3:00pm. Why so fast? Two words: The bugs.

Simply titled Candy Store and Goods off the 74-Ortega Highway. Park across the street.

Simply titled Candy Store and Goods off the 74-Ortega Highway. Park across the street.

Driving Directions: hop on the 5 freeway and exit Ortega Highway (Hwy 74), head towards Lake Elsinore and keep going until you see “Candy Store and Goods.” Park in the national parks parking lot across the street from the store and either pay for parking or display your Adventure Pass. Carefully walk across the street.

Parking: located across the street from the candy store–no parking at the candy store

Roundtrip mileage: 12 miles, 5.5 hours*

Elevation: 3,273 feet

Elevation gain: 2,150 feet

Not sure how I made it without going insane, but I made it!

Not sure how I made it without going insane, but I made it!

What to bring: Adventure Pass, POWERFUL BUG REPELLENT that doesn’t give you cancer, lots of water depending on the air temperature, food, hiking stick, some form of mountain lion defense, courage

Consider this: The bugs are absolutely relentless. If I stopped for longer than 2 minutes, those suckers were on me like, well, flies on meat…that was sweating…because my dumb ass decided to start my hike at 10:00 a.m. Both factors made the hike less enjoyable. For almost the entirety of the hike, I was eaten alive by mosquitoes and horseflies. Have you ever been bitten by a horsefly? They SUCK! And leave big red welts that take too long to go away. The first part of this hike is shrouded in foliage, trees, rocks…lovely vantage points for mountain lions to sneak up on you. I didn’t see any, but it was definitely on my mind since I had a run-in with one 10 years ago in Carbon Canyon.

 

Taking in the views of the Cleveland National Forest.

Taking in the views of the Cleveland National Forest.

Peak 1 of 6: Mt. Baden-Powell

Peak one of six was a doozy for my first ass-kicking/toe-kicking hike…

Mt. Baden-Powell summit, as my toes live and breathe.

Mt. Baden-Powell summit, as my toes live and breathe.

The Hike: Part of the infamous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), this hike is incredibly steep. You will feel every foot of elevation gain as you traverse the 40 (that’s right: 4-0) switchbacks up and up and up some more. If you haven’t done this hike before, you might ask folks “how much farther?” to which, no matter where on the trail you are, you will hear: “Only a half mile more!” The trail stays covered in pine, oak and cedar trees for the majority of the trek, however, once you reach the last REAL half mile, it becomes fairly exposed. Beautiful 360 views of the desert, cities and mountain ranges lay before you once you get to the exposed peak.

On the way down, be sure to show some love to your “little piggies,” a.k.a.: your toesies. Because the hike up is so steep, your toes will pay the price coming back down since they are essentially being jammed into the front of your shoes. Bring band-aids, do a toe sanity check and tread VERY carefully. No matter how carefully I walked, I still managed to slip and fall on my booty a couple of times. BE CAREFUL.
Driving Directions: head east on I-210/Foothill freeway, take CA-210 and I-15 north to CA-138 west in San Bernadino county.
Your GPS may tell you to keep going, but be sure to look for two parking lots on both sides of the road just before GPS’ end mark. Depending on where you’re coming from, one parking lot requires an Adventure Pass or National Parks Pass. The other lot is free of charge, just be wary of the jagged gravel.

Roundtrip mileage: 8.9 miles, about 5 hours*

As you can see--not exactly flat.

As you can see–not exactly flat.

Elevation: 9,400 feet

Elevation gain: 2,900 feet

What to bring: Water, food, hat, phone/camera, band aids, a smile, Adventure Pass

 

I had to...

I had to…

Consider this:
There are 40 switchbacks up to the Baden-Powell summit, they seem never-ending, but they do end. They do. And you will never be so glad to see a bald-looking path once you are, literally, out of the woods and those switchbacks. Be wary of future hike recommends from anyone who has traversed the PCT (Sean Jansen!!) In late June, you may see remnants of snow on the ground, which, of course, I had to touch.

Intro-ing My Journey with the SoCal Six Peak Challenge

I bet y’all are wondering: where’d the surfer girl go? What’s with the land adventures? What gives?
There comes a time where…nah, I’m not gonna go into this lecture–I honestly got tricked into taking on this challenge after a series of life-changing/stressful events. I needed peace and escape and I gotta credit my best nature-loving junkie pal Sean Jansen with this adventure.
Sean—you started it! You’ve turned me into a land lubber.

And, now I’m forever grateful.

As I was saying…I needed escape from the norm. As the summer crept into air vents and AC bills across Riverside and other sweltering inland counties and states, I knew anything that resembled a beach would be a ZOO. And grumpy territorial locals combined with those touting soft tops, frosted tips and sweet ignorance, (PLUS traffic), had me reeling for an alternative nature-bound escape.

Enter the mountains, which have semi-eluded my interest until now. Hiking is fully a part of my outdoor geekiness. After getting tricked into hiking up one peak, a fellow hiker asked if I was doing the “SoCal Six Peak Challenge,” which I had no idea what that was, but could guess given the context clues.

And so it was ingrained in my brain: hike six peaks in Southern California

Technically there are 12 peaks within this challenge, but the most common one is the “SoCal Six,” which you can find here.
Follow me on my adventure to hike six of Southern California’s noteworthy peaks! Who knows…maybe I’ll do 12? No promises.

Stay tuned to my blog and Instagram. I’ll give ya my skinny on some of Southern California’s not-so-skinny mountain peaks.

Two hard and fast recommends if you decide to attempt:

    Purchase an annual Adventure Pass for $30 or a National Parks Pass for $80. They are available at any REI store or any ranger station.
    Be sure to bring more water than you think you need. I recommend 2 liters at the very least. On a hot day with a long hike and lots of elevation in front of you, I recommend at least 4.5-5 liters. Water weighs two pounds per liter, but trust me—it is worth every pound.

And…don’t worry—there will be ocean waves, too.

Disclaimer: My estimated time to complete each trail is based on my personal pace, which I have averaged at around 2 miles an hour. Your results and experiences may vary depending on the weather, stamina, water supply, mental sanity, etc.

*All photos and videos are my own

Facing Fears Solo in Zion National Park

Timing is everything.

And it just so happened that minutes after I gushed to my boss about wanting to do a solo camping trip, my co-worker messaged the team saying that he had an extra camp site at Zion National Park. Instantly, I responded with “mine…please.”

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

It has been 10 years since I’ve camped by myself…Big Sur in 2009, right around the same time of year, was the first and last time I had pitched a tent, lit a fire and truly struck out into a space with zero cell phone reception. I toggled with the idea of bringing someone along, but my mind immediately screamed: NOPE. There were times where I’d view the estimated air temps for that week and it mostly read in the mid 50’s for the high and the upper 20’s for the low. Again: still going.

I got yelled at by both parents and most co-workers were in disbelief.

Still.
Going.

Of course I began to question myself: Could I still light my own camp fire? Build my own tent? Cook my own food? Protect myself from predators in and out of the park? YES.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

After staying Thursday night at the disgusting Rio resort/hotel in Vegas, I powered through Sin City’s dust, desert and debauchery for a couple more hours to Zion and arrived (after many photo stops) Friday afternoon. I could not wait to escape that blasted hotel room that reeked of smoke. Despite it’s salacious  party-hardy reputation, Vegas has never been interesting to me. In fact, it makes me want to run far far away every time. Funny enough–I got more bug bites in the hotel room than I did camping.

When I arrived to my campsite, the beautiful landscape jutted towards puffy white clouds that swiftly blew past the peaks of the park’s beautiful precipices. I was in utter shock and awe having done zero research (naturally) before my solo adventure outside of consistently bugging my co-worker for info. I immediately began to set up my more than 10 year old tent–it’s previous adventure was five years ago in Baja with six wave-hungry boys and myself. The Baja dust and dried mud still sifted around the tent’s interior and, as I opened it up, I let out a big “AWWWWE” remembering that epic surf trip five years ago while, in the same breath, scoffing in shame as it was the last adventure this tent had seen.

After the tent was set up, my co-worker and his wife stopped by to say hello. I also got to know my fellow semi-solo female camper neighbor, who helped me pull up my tent. I later spied her chopping firewood with an ax, which made me feel oddly proud that I asked for her help. Shortly after the set-up, I hopped onto a free shuttle that takes people into the park. I decided to check out the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, a small half-mile trip to a water fall, stocked with crowds, kids and strollers. YAY. So after the brief stroll, I made my way down Sand Bench trail, which had no one. As the sun started to set, I turned around and headed towards camp, where I successfully lit a camp fire and cooked freeze-dried soup and paired it with a salad I picked up from the grocery store earlier.

The night came quickly and after my fire died, I huddled in my tent equipped with quilts, two sleeping bags, beanies, gloves and a solid book. But, I never sleep well when it comes to camping. I woke up at 3-ish a.m to the distant sound of coyotes barking. As I stirred in my sleeping bags, the frigid air felt numb against my face and proceeded to sneak through any available crevice.
In short: brrrr

The first portion of the Angel's Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

The first portion of the Angel’s Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

My 7 a.m. wake-up proved even more difficult than sleeping as getting out of the warmth of my sleeping bags was especially challenging.

Wellll, I’m up! Time for breakfast and the infamous Angel’s Landing hike. No big deal, I thought, as I scarfed my oatmeal and green tea. I will do as much as I can and there’s zero pressure, despite my dizzying fear of heights. But–I often push through because am also very stubborn and goal-oriented. I knew I had to do the hike that has a reputation for treachery. Six people have died attempting the last half-mile and the park makes sure people are aware of that and recommends anyone with heart or lung problems and anyone afraid of heights to not attempt. Of course, I had to at least SEE this beast of a climb.

This hike certainly ain’t no Angel…in fact, she’s a real bitch.

"The Spine" looking nice 'n spiney.

“The Spine” looking nice ‘n spiney.

The first 2 miles of the Angel’s Landing follow along a paved road of the West Rim Trail and I will mention, you really start to feel the 1,500 elevation gain towards the top of the longer switchbacks. Try not to get too dizzy because it might not be the highest point of the trail, but it’s still a long way down. After this portion, you come to the only shaded part of the trail known as “Refrigerator Canyon,” which has a small creek and hanging plants and trees. I recommend doing some calve stretching because shortly after this section, you arrive at “Walter’s Wiggles,” which are 21 switchbacks named after the park’s first superintendent. This, outside of the climb, is the most difficult part of the trail as it will wear you down.

If you make it through Walter’s Wiggles, you come to what looks like the top, but no. It is merely a resting/lunching place before you (or should you) take on the last half-mile of Angel’s Landing known as “The Spine”–duly noted for it’s narrow shape and sheer drop-offs. When I tackled this part, there was a hefty line of people (somehow) going both ways on the very narrow path that is, YES, mostly lined with chains for grip. I stood in line and the first third of the half mile climb (not really hike), was what I thought to be the peak, but no–my mouth agape as the rest of the “spine” came into view.

I thought, well I’ve come this far, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, maybe I’ll just keep going. 

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn't want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel's Landing.

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn’t want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel’s Landing.

A small part of my stomach was doing loop-de-loops as I climbed up and down, over and out very VERY carefully. One step in the wrong direction, one trip over a jagged rock and you fall to certain death thousands of dizzying feet below. The people in front and behind me became my best friends as I climbed with an 15 extra pounds on my back. I think I would’ve felt a little safer without my 15-pound backpack, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat my delicious turkey avocado sandwich at 5,790 feet. No, I wasn’t having that.

So, I committed to the rest of The Spine and eventually made it to a very unobstructed 360-degree view of Zion National Park. As  I got to the peak, my heart bursted with excitement and fear all at once. I dare not test my balance coupled with my tired legs and quickly found a lunch spot. My turkey and avocado sandwich never tasted so good. I sat for a moment, took in the beauty that is Zion and then decided to go back down since it was, at this point, past noon. I felt the sun fry my cheeks as I carefully stood up to hike down. Despite the fact that I was still shaking in my hiking boots, I was so proud that I made it to this place and didn’t give up.

Not too close to the edge. Yay conquering fears!

Not too close to the edge. Yay, conquering fears!

The climb back down, however, felt scarier than climbing up. For you climbers/hikers: capitalize on SQUATS because you gonna need ’em. No matter how much my thighs trembled, I forced myself to keep moving despite my semi-lighter backpack falling around my shoulders with each steep descend. At the Spine’s final third portion, there were some rude people who decided to not wait for oncoming traffic on the narrow one-way ridge, and some other folks had to literally grab me and hold me so those rude people would not push me over the edge. I am very grateful for those who were keeping me and the two girls behind safe.

Once I got to the resting space, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as my thighs continued to tremble.

I did it, I thought. I fucking did that shit.

As cheesy as this might sound, a special feeling remained in me for the rest of the day. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I continued to hike more of the West Rim Trail, Weeping Rock and a small portion of the Narrows. I absolutely HAVE to come back here–no question in mind.

My only real question that remains is: will I attempt Angel’s Landing again? Maybe or maybe not, but, not gonna lie: hang gliding, sky diving, rock climbing…these activities have a little more potential for future fear conquering.

Long Beach State University’s Shark Lab Director Speaks at Assembly Hearing on Shark Research Funding, 15-0 Vote Moves Bill Along to Appropriations Committee

Dr. Chris Lowe (left), director of Long Beach State University's Shark Lab and Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach)

Dr. Chris Lowe (left), director of Long Beach State University’s Shark Lab and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach)

 

Dr. Chris Lowe provides expert testimony on the need for monitoring and a beach safety program as white shark populations increase along the California coast

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 24, 2018) – Assembly Bill 2191, the White Shark Population Monitoring and Beach Safety Program, authored by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D – Long Beach), cleared the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee Tuesday. The bi-partisan15-0 vote in favor of the bill followed a hearing that included expert testimony from Long Beach State University Shark Lab Director Dr. Chris Lowe.

Lowe spoke this morning to the committee supporting investment in research into growing white shark populations along California’s coast.

“For the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of white sharks. We believe this comeback is connected to environmental protections that were established several decades ago,” Lowe said. “The good news is that they are coming back. The tricky part is that we lack the tools to monitor them.”

O’Donnell, who introduced Lowe to the committee, noted that record numbers of shark sightings during 2017 had overextended the Shark Lab’s resources.

“The numbers of sharks at our beaches were so high that Shark Lab researchers ran out of shark tags,” O’Donnell said. “We must be willing to invest in those who are doing the work. This is a human, environmental and economic issue.”

“We are seeing unprecedented numbers of juvenile white sharks hanging out in the surf line alongside swimmers, surfers, paddle boarders and others who recreate in the ocean,” Lowe said. “This is prompting more sightings, warnings and closures at local beaches than in recent memory. While this is alarming for beachgoers, this influx – coupled with better technology – is a perfect opportunity for us to find out why these sharks are staying closer to shore for longer periods as they grow bigger. Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding to keep pace with the demand for tags and monitoring. This is jeopardizing our efforts to learn about white shark behavior and help lifeguards and law enforcement better inform the public about beach safety.”

“As a parent and a teacher, our kids’ safety is my highest priority,” O’Donnell said. “The bill – Assembly Bill 2191 – is about learning how to enjoy our ocean and beaches safely and responsibly alongside the growing presence and variety of marine animals along our coast.”

O’Donnell introduced this measure in collaboration with Long Beach State University’s renowned Shark Lab, which has been on campus since 1966. He also recently partnered with the Shark Lab to hold “Shark Day,” a public informational event at the campus. The event highlighted the Shark Lab’s work monitoring and studying sharks, which would be eligible for funding through AB 2191.

*Press Release and Photo Courtesy of Jeff Bliss and California State University, Long Beach*

One Man’s Reflection of Two Separate Great White Shark Attacks

 

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

It’s no secret that surfing comes with its lists of risks. From drowning, bacterial infections, reefs and rocks, jellyfish and stingrays, crazy locals, to random freak accidents, the list can go on and on… There’s even rogue dolphins who miscalculate their beautiful leaps onto the unsuspecting surfer. Ouch.

But none other than one of our most widely whispered topics, SHARKS, are more associated with the risks of being a surfer.  Royce Fraley, a long-time surfer based in Occidental, California, is incredibly aware of this risk and has encountered our infamous grey suited landlord not once, but twice in the chilly Northern California waters.

“In both situations, it’s amazing how your brain kicks into a ‘fight or flight mode’ real quick,” said Fraley. “You automatically want to believe it’s not happening to you, but it is. All these thoughts happen within milliseconds.”

Like jelly to peanut butter, sharks and surfers go hand-in-hand by reputation, sans, well, let’s hope tastiness. In fact, based on my personal conversations, one of the most cited reasons why folks decide to not surf is because of our association with our oceanic toothy counterpart.

But consider statistics—for the average surfer who is in the water maybe not every day, but most days and is floating in the ocean for an extended period of time, what is the actual risk?

“No one plans to paddle out and hit a rock,” said Sean van Sommeron, Founder and Director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California. “Of course, every time you paddle out, you’re taking a risk. The statistics on shark attacks on surfers is very low on the list of possibilities. Surf board accidents are much higher on the list.”

Surfer Magazine did a lovely and realistic calculation for California surfer folks and concluded that California surfers have a 1-in-25,641 chance of being the victim of a fatal shark attack.

We’ve heard it all before—“you’re more likely to get struck by lightning.”

But sometimes lightning can strike twice for those special outliers, although they are few and very–VERY far between. For Fraley, who has logged more than 40 years of surfing around the world, charging double-overhead mysto reefs smack dab in Northern California’s “red triangle,” a little “brush” with our toothy landlords may be expected. However, for Fraley, not once, but twice did he pay rent and came out relatively physically unscathed.

Royce Fraley charging in Northern California. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

No hesitation or barrel dodging–Royce Fraley charging in Northern California.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Northern California’s got a reputation among the salty-haired to mean two unpleasant things with one tempting caveat: cold and sharky…but lots of uncrowded spots! For Fraley, 10 is a crowd and spots are most often protected from wanton commercialization by thick blooded locals, that is if the break and pirate-like foggy coastline doesn’t scare you off first.

I got to know Fraley over the interwebs and he shared both stories of his attacks, which were covered by the SF Gate in 2006. More than 10 years has passed since his latest attack in 2006 and I was curious to see how he still manages to charge the crazy Northern California surf.

First Attack: September 1, 1998

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California. Photo by: Patrick Parks

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California.
Photo by: Patrick Parks

A smallish surf day brought Fraley and a few of his good friends to surf Russian River, a spot located north of Bodega Bay, which is known for beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and draining barrels. The trio were the only people in the water. Just as Fraley’s friends caught a few waves towards the inside, Fraley laid down on his board to rest from paddling along the sandbar.

Out of nowhere, he was launched around four-to-five feet into the air and disappeared into a giant burst of whitewater.

“If you took both palms of your hands and slam them on the hood of your car as hard as you can, that was the sound of this incredible impact,” said Fraley.  “All I could see was whitewater all around me.”

Luckily, after that shocking launch, Fraley landed perfectly on his board in the water. The nose of the shark left a half-inch imprint on the bottom of Fraley’s board, even leaving behind a little skin.

“I think that shark was very surprised it hit something that was so damn hard, which was my fiberglass surfboard,” said Fraley. “That strike was like an ‘okay, I’m going in big time’ attack.”

After he landed, Fraley did not hesitate to paddle his 6’10” Campbell Brothers pintail towards the beach, his friends waiting on the sand, when he saw the water close to him swirl and watched as the shark drew up alongside him and chase him in.

“All I saw was the shark’s back and it’s dorsal fin,” said Fraley. “His dorsal was parallel to me and I was like ‘are you kidding me?!’ And before I knew it, I was in super shallow water and the shark just turned off.”

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Once he reached the beach, Fraley collapsed while his friends quickly checked him for wounds. A little shaken, Fraley and his friends decided to conclude their session with much needed tequila shots and local Indian cuisine to celebrate his most interesting, rare and harrowing encounter.

“If you’re tracking the shark, it will be eyeing you, too and eventually it will take off,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the California State University, Long Beach’s Shark Lab. “If you lose track of the shark, the first place you should look is behind you because that’s what a predator, like a shark, will do–they’ll move out of view.”

Dr. Lowe explained they often see this tactic while tagging great white sharks off of Southern California’s coastline. The smaller, more juvenile great whites are more easily scared off, however, the bigger guys and gals will often move off to the side and sneak up from behind. Dr. Lowe recommends that if a surfer loses track of a shark, to do a 10-second count and look behind. Sharks can identify an animal or person’s head and might often consider the surfboard’s nose as a person’s “head,” therefore recommends a surfer to also track with their board, too.

“If their prey know they can see them, there’s a chance that the predator won’t be able to take them down and may get hurt in the process,” said Dr. Lowe. “Your surfboard’s ‘head’ will make them sense they are being watched.”

Second Attack: December 10, 2006

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A pack of dolphins catches waves in Northern California. Photo: Royce Fraley

Eight years had passed since Fraley’s Russian River encounter, and surfing was still on his to-do list. Fraley was itching for an evening session at Dillion Beach at a spot the locals like to coin as “the shark pit.” About 1,000 yards off the beach awaits a perfect and incredibly long A-frame peak that used to produce 3-500 yard rides in the 90’s. The spot is still filled with it’s fair share of big wave action as, according to Fraley, they will often see Mavericks crews and tow-in folks cruising the out-to-sea style lineup. If the location doesn’t make you flinch, then maybe a nice long paddle over the deep channel will.

“At this point, I had been surfing this spot for 15 years, had done this many times before,” said Fraley. ” It was a beautiful sunny December evening, right after a storm. A big set came through and I caught a couple of waves, which pushed me over into the channel.”

With the increasing swell, Fraley took his time getting back to the lineup, pacing himself for more waves. He rested on his brand new 7’6″ big wave board and as he was gliding over the channel, the water around him began to boil like a cauldron, the right side of his board lifted out of the water and Fraley rolled off the board.

“It was almost like the shark was a submarine surfacing,” said Fraley. “His bottom jaw hit the underside of my board and I started rolling off as the shark bit down.”

Fraley felt a sting in his right  hip as the shark dove down with Fraley’s 10-foot big wave leash wrapped around it’s mouth. As Fraley instinctively grabbed ahold of his board for flotation, the shark dove even deeper beneath the surface with Fraley in tow. In the time spent below the surface, he experienced a gamut of emotions beginning with strong denial, anger and pain–to acceptance.

“There’s a part of me that accepted what was happening, I felt peaceful,” said Fraley.  “Right when I felt that, I bumped off the side of the shark. It felt like someone pushed my whole right side up against a school bus.”

Royce shows relatively minor cuts after his attack. Photo: Royce Fraley

Royce shows relatively minor cuts and board damage after his attack.
Photo: Royce Fraley

When Fraley reached the surface, incredibly shaken, he paddled towards a surfer, who immediately paddled away from him towards shore, and Fraley was left to make the long paddle on his own. A lifeguard, Brit Horne saw the commotion and quickly came to Fraley’s rescue where he found three imprints from the shark’s teeth on his right hip, which did not require stitches.

The University of California, Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab estimated the great white shark Fraley encountered to be about 15 feet long and weigh about 3,000 pounds.

“Not all bites may be predatory, sharks may be sending signals saying ‘you better back off,'” said Dr. Lowe. “Surfers often don’t even know the shark is in the area, and the shark hits and takes off. We just don’t know what the motivating factors are prior to those bites and it’s very rare that people actually witness those behaviors happening, so we have no context.”

Post-surf/attack session, instead of tequila shots and yummy food, Fraley was greeted with a barrage of news media at his front door when he got home. Even Good Morning, America! wanted an interview, but Fraley preferred to keep the news media’s often jarring sensationalism out of his evening and simply reflect on the greater lesson.

Reflection

"The shark pit" looking good enough for a surf. Photo: Royce Fraley

“The shark pit” looking good enough for a surf.
Photo: Royce Fraley

Since his latest shark attack, Fraley has had time to contemplate his extremely rare attacks. Although from time-to-time, he understandably experiences a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Fraley still manages charge big waves, but, seemingly remains more vigilant and paddles out with friends, on most days.

“The biggie for me was to actually go back out at the same spots,” said Fraley. “I had that need to be around other people and even now, I’ll be surfing any spot and sometimes I have a mini-panic attack, It’s almost like PTSD, but I usually tell myself to calm down and breathe and that definitely helps.”

Even still–it certainly hasn’t deterred him from charging full NorCal swells. In fact, he and a few friends will often search for lonely peaks along the less traveled areas of the north coast.

“Since the shark attacks, it really made me look at the way I carry myself and the way I am with others,” said Fraley. “The sharks taught me to get over myself, be humble, be considerate of others in and out of the water, to have a reverence for every moment you have, and to get over your own bullshit.”

Similar to how Native Americans often associated these experiences with predatory creatures, Fraley relates to this school of thought and sees both encounters as blessings.

“That’s how I have to look at my situation,” said Fraley. “It taught me to have a little bit more respect for yourself and life. It helped me realize how precious things are. So much of our society is ‘dog-eat-dog’ when we should be giving waves away, hooting someone into waves–bottom line: don’t be freakin’ selfish.”

Another Royce NorCal nugget. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Another Royce NorCal nugget.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

 

Time of the Month: What Every Surfer Guy (and Gal) Should Know-PERIOD.

SC graffiti sign

Since the upsetting shark attack that occurred on April 29th at San Onofre’s Church break, there have been rumors circulating the lineup that the estimated 9-11-foot shark might have been drawn to the unsuspecting gal because she was on her period.

 All jokes and assumptions aside, no factual evidence was discovered, not even a drop.

In fact–read Surfline’s exclusive interview with the recovering victim here.

And since I’ve heard this hilarious rumor, most of the guys I happen to surf around seemingly shift their locations further away from me, which is great if I’m waiting for waves at the peak.

Hmmm, maybe I’ll finally paddle out to Lowers this summer. :D

[Paddles out to Lowers and yells in womanly agony: “Oh mah gah, these CRAMPS!!”]

While surfing at Salt Creek this past May, I not only noticed that everyone was huddled unusually close together at the peak, but I also noted that the topic of conversation was primarily about our infamous grey-suited landlord. Everyone’s ears seemed to perk up as each news development surfaced about the recent attack while a coast guard helicopter patrolled overhead.

Each person’s shifty eyes would widen as I paddled closer to the peak, until someone approached me mid-conversation and blurted:

“You notice how all of the attacks are on women? It’s because they’re on their period,” he jokingly said. “I’d not surf here if I were you. You could be putting everyone at risk.”

UM-what?

OH yes, my very educated friend, it’s true. Every woman you see in the lineup is just constantly bleeding–we are nothing more than swimming/paddling/surfing chum machines, and are using the ocean as our personal maxi pad. We purposefully decide to park it by you in hopes that one day our ocean animal friends will seek and destroy you, mwahahahahaha.

I CONFESS: In the middle of my dark inner monologue and lonely three foot bubble, I began to wonder…is it true? Does a woman’s fun “time of the month” necessarily attract sharks? I mean, we all have to wonder and at some point, I know we all HAVE wondered this borderline sexist thought.

“This is a misconception that a drop of blood drives sharks from miles away into a feeding frenzy,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of California State University-Long Beach’s Shark Lab. “Everybody who is in the water is exuding  many of the same amino acids that are found in blood. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, whether you’re having your period or not, you’re exuding many of the same compounds that a shark can detect.”

BOOM. Put that one to rest!  Dr. Lowe was recently featured in my piece: “Canary in the Coal Mine: Increase in Great White Shark Population is a GOOD Sign for Southern California

In addition to our male/female bodily …functions (?) being pretty much equal in the water, Dr. Lowe points out quantity, in this case, is also a factor to consider.

“The amount of blood a woman exudes during her period is miniscule,” said Dr. Lowe. “It’s not nearly enough to put an animal into that kind of feeding mode. So that’s very different from somebody who has a severe cut and is putting lots of blood into the water.”

Pictured is a juvenile great white shark off of Manhattan Beach. Photo credit: Cal State Long Beach Shark lab

Pictured is a juvenile great white shark off of Manhattan Beach.
Photo credit: Cal State Long Beach Shark lab

Additionally, menstrual blood is not really considered real “blood” that sharks interested in. According to Popular Science’s No, menstrual blood does not attract sharks, in addition to a shark like a great white’s ability to detect a trace amount of blood in only 100 liters of water (1/25,000th of an Olympic swimming pool!), even when sharks are snouting about, they are interested in marine mammal blood and guts–not ours.

Although it’s pretty inconclusive about what exactly sharks are inclined to attack in general, sharks have been documented to prefer sound instead of sight or smell, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northeast Fishery Science Center (NEFSC). For millions of years, sharks have been programmed to detect struggling prey and movement. Colors also play a role in a shark’s interest and there is a specific attraction to silver, white and yellow–the same colors as a shark’s prey.

I recall my friend Sean paddling out to a break in Humboldt–often known for it’s cold, rainy and sharky conditions. Shark encounters are more frequent near this area, as it’s located just north of the “Red Triangle” and instead of baby great white sharks, they get the big guys from our nightmares. Not quite megalodon proportions, but if you were to tell me marine biologists discovered one in this region, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Much like the topography, most whites cruising the Northern California coast are much much larger because they can handle the colder water temps, although, they do prefer the more temperate waters, such as most of the Californian, Australian and South African coastlines. In fact, fully developed great whites are warm bodied, so they can adjust to water temperatures.

Humboldt Redwood forests galore! Try to find the hobbit in this picture.

Humboldt Redwood forests galore!

After my friend paddled out to aforementioned peak, a girl approached him in a panic and announced:

“I’m on my period!! Am I going to get attacked by a shark??”

I picture my salty friend rolling his eyes after this comment, maybe even chuckling a little.

To conclude: If you’re on the rag, it does not mean you or you’re surfing/swimming buddies are on the menu.

Canary in the Coal Mine: Increase in Great White Shark Population is a GOOD Sign for Southern California

All photos courtesy of California State University-Long Beach’s Shark Lab.

All photos courtesy of California State University-Long Beach's Shark Lab.

Dr. Chris Lowe releases a juvenile white shark after successfully affixing a “smart tag” on its dorsal fin. 

As surfers and aqua/nature junkies, our interaction with the ocean and it’s wildlife plays a huge role in our peace of mind. If you’re any kind of nature enthusiast, you know that the ocean can be a serene place that can quickly turn into your worst nightmare. But once you choose to recognize both sides of this personality coin, the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” aspect is seemingly understood and accepted.

The bottom line is: No matter who you are or what you do, mother nature always schools us. ALWAYS.

Great white sharks are one of the most mysterious and evolved predators on the planet and, despite the overblown hype (read “Hollywood”), we know so little about their lives beneath the waves. Sharks are always lurking in the back of our minds, our thoughts fashioned by Hollywood’s wildest Sharknado fantasy. As of late, Southern California has acquired quite a bit of ‘shark media’ due to a tragic collision with our grey-suited landlord doing it’s “shark thing” and a young lady at San Onofre’s Church break doing her “human thing.”

{Read: Surfline’s exclusive interview with her here.}

Through the whispers of sightings that circulated our lineup gossip combined with mainstream media salivating over chunks of info/news leads, I craved scientific explanation and education.

A real encounter, much less an actual attack on a human is extremely rare…until recently, I thought.

After the attack, beach closures ensued every other day, surf reports included the latest shark spottings along with the shark’s observed behavior, lifeguard boats and coastguard helicopters constantly combed the coastline, and surf lineups became an uneasy, quieter and more vigilant space. The fear of great white sharks exploded into the public’s conscious as what felt like a scene from JAWS.

I CONFESS: for a hot minute, surfing in San Clemente felt like visiting Amity Island for the Fourth of July.

The difference being that no one is actually “lining up to be a hot lunch.”

The April 29th attack at San Onofre conveyed a logical and obvious conclusion, which was based on a classic case of mistaken identity that nearly cost the woman her life.

But we forget that for the past 15 million years, this toothy creature has been cruising the ocean as sort of a “clean up crew” doing the same thing it knows best: eat and make little sharks.

But why are we seeing more of our toothy acquaintance??

“It becomes difficult to empirically determine what the great white shark population numbers are,” said Professor, Marine Biology, California State University-Long Beach and The Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab Director Dr. Chris Lowe. “Based on our data, which uses a combination of fishery’s data, marine mammal bite data and human observation, the population is increasing.”

Recently featured on The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in the  “Sharks and the City: LA” episode, we watched Dr. Lowe observe giant adult great white sharks from a steel cage in the chilly waters off of Guadalupe Island, which is located off of Baja’s Northern coast.

Pictured: Dr. Chris Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of CSULB's Shark Lab. Photo credit: Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab

Pictured: Dr. Chris Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of CSULB’s Shark Lab.

“The sharks in Guadalupe, the sharks in the Farallon Islands and the sharks found along Southern California, at least the ones sampled so far, all show genetic relatedness,” said Dr. Lowe. “Even though adults may go to different feeding aggregation sites, genetically, they’re all quite similar, which means they’re interbreeding. The part we are interested in is whether that population is increasing, stabilizing or decreasing and that gets tricky to determine.”

Let’s rewind to 1994:

Aside from this year supporting a decade of flannel shirts, publicizing the O.J. Simpson murder trials and debuting many many saccharine Disney movies and teen-angsty sitcoms, this was also the year California voters ushered in  Proposition 132, which banned the use of nearshore gill and trammel nets. Primarily used to catch white sea bass, halibut and soup fin sharks, these fishing methods incidentally also caught marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and whales.

“Because that fishery had such bad by-catch of marine mammals and birds, it was brought to the voters,” said Dr. Lowe. “Since the banning of that practice, pretty much all of those species have come back, including white sea bass, which was a target in that fishery.”

The prop established a Marine Protected Zone within three miles of coastal Southern California and directed California Fish and Game to establish four new ocean water ecological reserves for marine research, among other items. Coincidentally, after 50 years of baby white sharks being caught and landed in these same nets, not only did Prop 132 come into effect, but also in that same year, great white sharks became protected by the state of California.

“The recovery of sharks and other predators was a collective effort, it wasn’t just protection,” said Dr. Lowe. “The other key part of the white shark’s success is that adult white shark’s primary food source, marine mammals, were also simultaneously recovering.”

Pictured is a juvenile great white shark off of Manhattan Beach. Photo credit: Cal State Long Beach Shark lab

Pictured is a juvenile great white shark off of Manhattan Beach.

However, per Dr. Lowe, these populations have taken decades to recover from otherwise complete depletion via over-fishing and inhumane treatment, which dates back to the early 20th century. These animals did not receive fishing protection until 1972’s Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the “take” or harm of all marine mammals in U.S. waters. In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, passed in 1976, provided further reform and regulation over the fishing industry. This act fostered long-term biological as well as economic sustainability of U.S. fisheries out to 200 nautical miles offshore–this act also supports fisheries as long as sustainable and biologically-friendly practices are utilized while rebuilding and contributing to back to marine environment.

“As a result, you see a big uptick in pretty much all marine mammals because two things were happening: Our commercial fisheries were going away because fishers could no longer afford to catch fish due to increased regulations and increased fuel costs and these marine mammal populations were really starting to take hold throughout the mid-90’s,” said Dr. Lowe.

Also hailing from the decade of disco were the Clean Water Act of 1972, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to implement wastewater standards and regulate pollutant discharge in the U.S., and the Clean Air Act of 1970, which was designed to control air pollution on a national level. The Clean Air Act was the first and is also considered to be one of the most influential and comprehensive air quality laws in the world.

“As I started to work my way down the food chain, I realized that despite all of the bad news the public is getting, there are actually some good signs,” said Dr. Lowe. “Many of these species of fish that marine mammals eat are greatly affected by water quality. When I started researching, even our water quality has gotten better over the last years. Additionally, in Southern California, we had some of the worst air quality that existed anywhere in the country. And now our air is cleaner with five times more people and 28 times more cars than it was 10 years ago.”

Despite the unfortunate attack, the fearful rumors and inquiring minds (like yours truly), after decades of regulation and concerted conservation efforts from passionate scientists, organizations and volunteers, great whites are bringing hope to marine biologists and conservationists.

Shark Lab grad student Connor White attaches a PAT tag to a juvenile white shark off of the Ventura coast. Photo credit: Cal State University-Long Beach's Shark Lab

Shark Lab grad student Connor White attaches a PAT tag to a juvenile white shark off of the Ventura coast.

“As I started to look at all of these things, I recognized that some things are getting better,” said Dr. Lowe. “Protection and conservation are actually working, it’s just taking decades to see the affects.”

As we remain vigilant during our surf sessions and interactions with the ocean, it is important to consider and respect who’s home we are entering. Although it’s impossible to predict an attack, pay close attention to basic signs of when to stay out of the water. The Discovery Channel’s 20 Ways to Avoid a Shark Attack is a pretty comprehensive list–it’s also important to listen to your gut.

The same day of the San Onofre attack, I happen to be in San Clemente and, of course, had a surf itch, but no board. After attempting to borrow one from a friend, I resolved to take my time and drive by the San Clemente Pier to check the waves.

I saw the brown murky water with a few crumblers rolling through–Man, it looks sharky, I thought, and decided against meeting my friend at SanO.

Somewhere around the same time this thought ran through my mind, the attack occurred at Church.

Sometimes it’s hard to define “sharky” waters or what your gut tells you, but as the old adage goes: when in doubt, don’t go out.

At the same token, it’s important to not let fear rule your surf sessions. According to The Fisheries Blog’s 10 Things More Likely than a Shark Attack, you have a greater chance of being hit by a comet or, my personal fave, are more likely to be injured by a toilet.

Stick that in your silver screen pipe and smoke it, Hollywood! Ahh, killer toilets!!

Sharks are incredibly necessary to our marine ecosystems and research indicates their presence is, to quote Martha Stewart: “a good thing.” According to Smithsonian Magazine’s What Happens When Predators Disappear, when an apex predator is removed from the food chain, their prey remains unchecked, which can not only cause an increase to the prey population, but it can also have devastating affects on plant life and the surrounding environment, including increases in bacteria and infectious diseases.

Two Shark Lab grad students prepare for an expedition with Dr. Chris Lowe.

Two Shark Lab grad students prepare for an expedition with Dr. Chris Lowe.

“The ‘canary in the coal mine’ for all of this, believe it or not, are the predators,” said Dr. Lowe. “When things at the top of the food chain, like white sharks and sea lions, start to come back, that means the rest of the ecosystem is showing signs of recovery because predators are the most sensitive.”

For more information about California State University’s Shark Lab and its research, click here.

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