Jordan Anast had his camera focused on the surfer gliding across the sea at San Onofre when he noticed a big splash just behind the wave rider.
“I thought, ‘That’s a big dolphin,’” the longtime surf photographer said, but when he looked back at the images, Anast couldn’t believe what he saw: A great white shark’s full body breaching out of the ocean into the sky.
“It’s a shot I’ll never get again,” he said Monday, still in disbelief. “It just looks like ‘Sharknado,’ it doesn’t look real.”
Anast estimates he’s shot a million or so images at the tucked-away beach just south of San Clemente through the years, but the one-in-a-million shot happened at about 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 as the San Onofre Surf Club’s annual contest was underway.
Riding the wave was well-known surfboard maker Tyler Warren, who told Anast he didn’t see the shark jumping just behind him.
Click on the image to see a slideshow sequence of the leaping shark:
San Onofre State Beach is a known juvenile great white shark breeding ground. Stories of great white sharks at the popular surfing beach have been told for decades, with two famous sharks, Fluffy and Bumper, said to live in the area for awhile following a whale buried in the shoreline in the early 2000s just to the south.
It’s also not the first time a shark has jumped out of the water during a surf contest. In 2019, a shark breach happened during the USA Surf Contest at Lower Trestles just north of San Onofre beach. In 2021, the WSL Finals was put on pause when a shark leaped into the sky near the surfers.
The beach is also just next to where swimmer Leeanne Ericson was bit by a shark in 2017.
In recent years, more surfers have shrugged off the existence of sharks in the lineup as more sightings and encounters have occurred. More drone footage and social media shares have showcased just how often sharks are near humans in the water without them even knowing, which has eased some fears.
Surf club member Matt Enright said there was a buzz on the beach after the shark breach at the Old Man’s surf break, but most surfers didn’t seem to mind. Another photographer, Rick Fegley, shooting photos with Enright of the club’s contest also caught the shark in the air.
“There’s been plenty of sightings over the years,” he said. “No one was really that worried.”
He’s been in the water, he said, when two juvenile sharks have appeared just 6 feet from him. “I was so excited to see the fins, I’d never seen it before.”
“There were several people nearby that paddled like crazy for the beach,” Enright said, noting he opted to stay and catch waves.
Expert Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach said breaching juvenile white sharks, as seen in the image, is not uncommon.
While it’s unknown exactly why they breach, there’s several hypotheses such as chasing pray and ambushing them from below or trying to escape another shark that might be chasing them.
They also could be dislodging external parasites, skin crawlers that probably make them itchy, Lowe said.
“So jumping and landing on their sides might be one way of dislodging hitchhikers,” he said. “We also see them scratch their backs on the sand – another way to rub off parasites.”
And Lowe’s favorite theory: They are playing.
“Many predators exhibit a variety of predator behaviors in the absence of prey to practice,” he said. “So, it’s possible these breaches are juveniles playing around, practicing ambushing behavior.”
Or maybe this shark just wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the longboard surfers in the contest.
Whatever the reason, Anast knows it’s a shot he’ll likely never get again. He plans to get the image printed and framed for the unknowing surfer in the foreground.
“It beats my dolphin shots,” he said. “It was surreal.”
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