By Paul Lebowitz
In separate incidents a few hours apart on Friday, a great white shark knocked two anglers from their fishing kayaks off Vandenberg Air Force Base, Central California.
In the first event, an unidentified man fishing the ocean for the first time from a brand new 14-foot Hobie Pro Angler was thrown from his boat around 11 a.m. Power boater Lou Christman rescued the man, who was uninjured, and took his group to shore.
Ryan Howell of Central Coast Kayak Fishing, Vince Culliver of Jurassic Sportfishing and another friend were aware of the attack and may have helped coordinate the rescue via VHF radio, but as they had just launched a short time earlier, decided to trust in the safety of numbers and sticking close together – no more than five feet apart.
“I don’t know why we stayed out,” Howell said.
They were under way in 40 feet of water about two miles from the Vandenberg Boat House launch around 2:00 p.m. when Howell was violently tossed ten feet into the air.
“I had no idea it was coming,” Howell said.
Culliver witnessed the shark’s breach attack. He told GrindTV that the nearly 20-foot long shark struck the stern of Howell’s Hobie Outback. As Howell splashed into the ocean, the shark returned for a second bite of the kayak.
“As soon as I hit the water my boat hit me. The shark was pushing it. The only thing between the shark’s mouth and me was the Hobie. Lucky it held up to the hit. It happened so quickly. Thirty seconds felt like forever. I needed to get out of the water,” said Howell, who estimates he was propelled roughly 50 feet.
When Howell eventually surfaced, Culliver pedaled over and pulled him onto his own kayak. Howell’s Outback sustained serious damage, including a deep crack more than six inches long right under the seat area. Photos show numerous other cracks, cuts and gouges extending from the drive well to the stern.
Howell used his handheld marine VHF to hail Christman aboard his powerboat, which had just started on its way back to Santa Barbara Harbor. Christman turned around to pluck Howell’s group from the water. By the time the boat arrived Howell’s kayak was more than three-quarters full of water. Howell said he and the kayak angler who was hit earlier in the day were incredibly lucky to have a powerboat around.
“Boats are rarely up at Vandenberg. It’s almost like Big Sur,” said Howell, who added that his PFD and radio were indispensable in his rescue. He was the only one of his group who was carrying a radio.
“If I’d have been by myself I’d have been screwed. I’m not pissed at the shark. I was in its ocean,” Howell said.
Howell was uninjured, suffering not so much as a scratch. Since July 21, 2007, when Dan Prather’s kayak was stuck by a great white off Bean Hollow south of San Francisco, the massive sharks have knocked an average of one Central California kayak angler a year into the water. In every incident, the fishing kayak absorbed the punishment. As strange as it sounds, the most serious risk lies not in direct injury, but in exposure to cold, rough water. Damaged fishing kayaks flood rapidly, becoming unstable. Fortunately help has been nearby in every case. The shark that killed kayak angler Patrick A Briney off the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2013 is strongly suspected to be a tiger.
In recent years, a spate of October great white shark attacks has troubled the waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base. Only a day earlier, an unidentified surfer was injured by a suspected great white shark bite at the north end of the base. Shark bites claimed the lives of surfers in 2010 and 2012.