Kevin Cody

No time for sharks in Surf Festival Dwight Crum Pier to Pier

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 Ryan Bullock said he was too focused on winning the Dwight Crum Pier to Pier Swim to worry about the shark that followed him. Photo by Ray Vidal

Ryan Bullock said he was too focused on winning the Dwight Crum Pier to Pier Swim to worry about the shark that followed him. Photo by Ray Vidal

Last week, while training for Sunday’s International Surf Festival Dwight Crum Pier to Pier swim, retired Los Angeles County Lifeguard Captain Shannon Davey saw a shark breach off of 26th street in Hermosa Beach. The street is near the halfway mark in the two mile race from the Hermosa Beach to the Manhattan Beach pier. That evening Davey told her friend and former Mira Costa High School swim team teammate Niecia Staggs that she hoped she would see a shark during Sunday’s race.

Davey’s hope came true for both herself and her friend, as well as many of the other 1,000 swimmers in the race.

Staggs saw a shark just past 26th street.

Spectator Violette Beshag took this photo from the Manhattan Beach pier of  paralleling second and third place swimmers Jonathan Harmse and Kevin Fink

Spectator Violette Beshay took this photo from the Manhattan Beach pier of paralleling second and third place swimmers Jonathan Harmse and Kevin Fink

“At first I thought it was my shadow, but it was longer than me — six to seven feet. I had plenty of time to stare and figure out what it was because it swam beneath me for several blocks,” Staggs said after the race.

She said a lifeguard on a personal watercraft pulled up and advised her to swim further out to sea.

A few block north, at Neptune Street, at the border of Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, a shark passed beneath swimmer Daniel Benoit. He stopped swimming long enough to say in a low voice, so as not to cause alarm, “Shark, shark.” He then resumed swimming.

A lifeguard on a personal watercraft came over to assess the situation and two swimmer clamored aboard an escort stand-up paddleboard. But the dozens of other nearby swimmers just kept swimming toward the Manhattan Pier, still half a mile away.

“I saw a shark weaving below me. But it was going south and I was going north, so I didn’t worry too much about it,” swimmer Beverly Baird said. She did admit to speeding up and finished with a personal best.

Teri Carpenter, Violette Beshay and Barb Garbrelli were waiting at the end of the Manhattan Pier to cheer on Staggs, who is an Equinox swim coach and is training the trio for the upcoming Malibu Triathlon. The three said they saw a shark a few feet behind leader Ryan Bullock as he rounded the end of the pier.

Then they saw another shark paralleling second and third place swimmers Jonathan Harmse and Kevin Fink as they approached the pier. Beshay’s iPhone photos show the sharks to be in the six- to eight-foot range.

“I was aware of the shark. I saw it when I was approximately 500 yards south of the Manhattan pier,” Bullock said after the race, “…but I had a lot of other thoughts going through my head at the time, so when I saw the shark, I was like ‘Oh wow, there’s a shark. Can’t stop because I might get beat.’”

“The conditions were perfect and water was very clear, so I’m not surprised that others saw sharks. They are beautiful creatures and are out there, but are usually just hard to see due to the lack of clarity of the water,” he said.

Davey’s hope of seeing a shark finally came true just short of the finish.

“I was 150 yards from the Manhattan pier, close to the sand dollar beds a little outside of the pier, when I first saw it. I was thinking it was 10-feet. But then I remembered that goggles magnify everything under water and realized it was only about six feet, still too young to want to eat me. It was very beautiful and graceful. It stayed with me, swimming along the bottom, for five to 10 strokes. It was the second best part of the race, next to finishing,” Davey said.

Davey’s husband Scott, who is also a retired lifeguard, was escorting her on a surfboard.

He claimed the shark surfaced alongside him, stared at him with its big black eyes and said, “All these swimmers are freaking me out.”

Concerns about sharks in Manhattan Beach heightened following the highly publicized July 5 collision between swimmer Steve Robles who was training for the Pier to Pier swim, and a Great White Shark that had been hooked by a fisherman casting from the Manhattan Beach pier. Robles was badly cut by the thrashing shark and his thumb nearly severed by the heavy fishing line attached to the hook in the shark’s  mouth.

Despite that incident, Pier to Pier race director Gary Crum said neither he nor Sunday’s swimmers were worried about the presence of sharks along the course.

“We had 1,200 entries, and no cancellations. The sharks have always been here and ocean swimmers know that. What we were worried about because of the muggy weather,” he said, “was lightning.”