BEAN HOLLOW STATE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - Dan Prather was smiling after his July 21 extreme close-up with a suspected great white shark. His boat didn't fare as well. Friends of the Concord, California kayaker said the bow of his red Hobie Adventure sit-on-top was scratched, scuffed, cracked, and holed when a large shark believed to be a great white struck and chewed it.
John Dale of Foster City said he, Prather, and 16 other kayakers were fishing off the remote beach south of San Francisco when some of the group heard a yell and splash. Dale was the first to reach Prather.
"Something didn't seem right. I asked how he'd done (fishing). He said 'I got a shark,' while looking at the nose of his kayak," Dale recounted.
Dale said Prather was drifting about a mile from the beach when a sudden impact threw him from the kayak. Believing he'd been struck by a boat, Prather surfaced, only to find the bow of his boat locked in the jaws of a shark.
"The only thing he saw was the head. He said the head was huge. It wasn't a gigantic shark, but it had the entire front of the kayak in its mouth," Dale said Prather told him.
Prather scrambled back aboard, but fell into the water again because his seat had been knocked askew. By the time he'd regained his boat a second time, the shark had vanished.
"The kayak held up well. It was punctured from the bottom where the point of a tooth poked through," Dale said. Prather's kayak was filling with water, but slowly.
The two raced to the beach where they were eventually joined by the rest of the group from Central California web community NorCal Kayak Anglers (NCKA).
Kayak angler Chuck Espiritu of San Leandro, who talked with Prather on the beach, said Prather wasn't doing anything likely to attract a shark. He wasn't soaking his catch in the cool ocean, nor was there any blood in the water.
Prather was drifting about a mile from the beach when a sudden impact threw him from the kayak.
The day after the incident, NCKA webmaster Bill Pennington said they consider Bean Hollow a sharky area. Another member of the group was buzzed by a suspected great white here in September 2006.
"We thought this early in the season it was ok to fish at Bean Hollow. The sharks shouldn't be there in large numbers until late summer," Pennington said.
Bean Hollow is less than a dozen miles north of the large elephant seal rookery at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, where kayaker Ken Kelton was attacked by a great white in November 1992. Like Prather, Kelton escaped injury.
Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Institute said most adult great whites arrive in Central California waters in October. Van Sommeran, who oversees a shark tagging program, has been studying great whites since the early 1990s.
"It is considered early in the season, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest the random year round presence of sharks near seal haul-outs," Van Sommeran explained.
Allen Bushnell of Santa Cruz Kayak Fishing, the area's oldest kayak fishing guide service, called the attack "a very rare occurrence."
"It could happen again tomorrow; it could happen again in 20 years. It's the chance we take when we go out there," Bushnell said.
Dale said the attack won't stop him from kayaking and fishing in the ocean. "It won't affect me; I'll go out again."
Van Sommeran didn't discourage kayakers from returning to Bean Hollow.
"Bottom line, it is just one of the things a sea kayaker has to be aware of in our area," Sommeran said, adding that staying in a group is believed to help avoid shark attacks.
"Have a partner, a first aid kit, and a game plan if an animal presents itself. Hope for the best and plan for worst," Sommeran concluded.
Prather could not be reached for comment.