Now that we're officially in the thick of summer, you'd be a lousy Southern Californian if you didn't take your board down to the beach and get your water-sport on. (Even Lindsay Lohan's trying. Key word “trying.”)
But because we're part of the fear-mongering mainstream-media machine, and we can't let you enjoy anything without first instilling an uneasy feeling that something could go terribly wrong…
… we'd like to bring to your attention the worst-case scenario of surfing (or swimming) SoCal: getting bit by a great white shark.
Forget the fact that you're more likely to be killed in a freak vending-machine accident than in the jaws of a shark. We've always hated that argument, because a vending-machine death would be so much less awful. Right? Something about seeing those big sharp teeth sink into your flesh, reminding you that you're not necessarily at the top of the food chain, makes a shark attack (or any wild-animal attack, really) the worst way to go.
Of the 40 shark attacks recorded in Southern California since 1926, here are the five scariest — or at least the ones with the most nail-biting details available in news reports. (To really get the paranoia surging, check out the Shark Research Committee's extensive log of all great-white sightings off the California coast.)
5. Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Barbara County
Lucas Ransom, 19, was surfing with his friend Matthew Garcia on a reportedly “glassy” Friday morning when a shark latched onto the teen and his red boogie board. Terrifyingly, Garcia later told reporters that Ransom had cried “Help me, dude” before getting pulled under — leaving behind only a “river of blood.” When he was finally pulled from the water, rescuers saw that his entire left leg had been bitten off, causing the young athlete to bleed to death. His mother was left with a final tragic text from her son: “You wouldn't believe these waves, Mom. I can't wait to get to them.”
4. Tide Beach, San Diego County
A 66-year-old retired veterinarian named Dave Martin went out for a swim early one morning with his triathlon training club. Around 7 a.m., a huge great white charged up from the deep — “lifting him vertically out of the water, both legs in its jaws, its serrated teeth slicing deep, fatal gashes,” according to MSNBC. Witnesses reportedly saw him “come up out of the water, scream 'shark,' flail his arms and go back under.” Martin was declared dead soon after being dragged to shore.
3. Catalina Island, Los Angeles County
The touristy island right off our own L.A. coast has seen a rare two shark attacks over the last half-decade. In June 2008, a Huntington Beach dad and his three kids watched their wife and mother, Bettina Pereira, survive the close call of a lifetime. According to a news story posted to OrangeCounty.com, Pereira actually landed on top of a great white shark after it threw her out of her kayak:
“It comes right under the kayak, threw her in the air, threw the kayak in the air,” [her husband] said. “When she landed, she landed on the back of the shark, on her two feet. It was incredible.
Bettina screamed for help. The shark heads in one direction, and she jumps off in the other direction.”
Andrew didn't see the initial bump, but looked over when their 14-year-old son Andrew said “mom fell off the kayak.”
That's strange, Andrew thought. In the 12 years she's been out in the waters kayaking, she's never fallen off. Then, in a split second, young Andrew yells: Oh my God, there's a shark after her!
More recently, in March 2012, a 15-year-old girl narrowly missed the jaws of another great white while paddleboarding with an organized group in what appeared to be a safe, tranquil cove. Miraculously, though the shark reportedly bit her board “several times,” the teenager came away unscathed.
2. Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County
While swimming with only a pod of sea lions on a tranquil morning, 50-year-old Deborah Franzman was murdered by a shark who may have mistaken her for one of the lions. (She was reportedly wearing a wetsuit and fins.) The shark struck from below, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, breaching the water and taking a “massive” bite from her thigh. Although witnesses heroically jumped in to save her after seeing “a gray fin in the churning water,” it was too late for Franzman. Most tragically, her partner had watched the entire attack from shore.
1. La Jolla Cove, San Diego County
This brutal shark attack from the mid-20th century is made all the more terrifying by the mystery that still surrounds it: After an extensive search, the body of Robert Pamperin, 33, was never recovered. As the story goes, all that was left of him was his swim fin.
Pamperin was been diving for abalone with his friend Gerald Lehrer when, according to the Shark Research Committee, Lehrer heard Pamperin cry “Help me!” — so he turned around to find his diving companion “upright and unnaturally high out of the water, with his mask missing.” The entire lower half of his body was in the mouth of the shark.
When the creature pulled Pamperin under, Lehrer reportedly dove down to help, where he observed…
“… the shark lying in a sandy area on the bottom, jerking from side to side. It appeared the shark was trying to either swallow or spit out Pamperin. Lehrer returned to the surface, inhaled air and dived under the water again. He swam toward the bottom, waving his arms frantically in an attempt to frighten the shark away, but it ignored him and kept twisting back and forth.”
To this day, the only explanation is that Pamperin's attacker swallowed him whole.