Surviving the Shark: How a Brutal Great White Attack Turned a Surfer into a Dedicated Defender of Sharks

Surviving the Shark: How a Brutal Great White Attack Turned a Surfer into a Dedicated Defender of Sharks


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634502832
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 08/18/2015
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Kathrein grew up outside San Francisco with his mother, father, and two younger brothers. He always enjoyed surfing,
especially at the site of his attack, Stinson Beach. He was only sixteen when he was attacked, yet he demonstrated great poise and maturity. During and after recovery, Kathrein remains a driving force in shark attack prevention and shark awareness. He leads lectures and founded the nonprofit Future Leaders for Peace, which aims to share his shark experience. Also, in 2009 he collaborated with his mother, Margaret Kathrein, on Far From Shore, which is a retelling of the event from her perspective. They live in San Rafael,

David McGuire is the director and founder of Sea Stewards and a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences.

Wallace J. Nichols, PhD is a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and the founder of Bluemind: The Mind &Ocean Initiative.

Read an Excerpt



"I learned that life is fragile, and we have to treat each other well because we don't know when our life, or the lives of those we care about, will be gone."

— Don't Fear the Shark, by Jonathan Kathrein

How did I find myself in the jaws of a shark? Don't things like this always happen to someone else?

It all began with my love of water. Growing up in Illinois, I dreamed of being a surfer. I had never seen the ocean, but I knew I loved it. I fell asleep at night listening to the Beach Boys and imagining I could hear the sound of crashing waves. When I was four years old, my friend Logan moved to San Diego. I thought of him surfing and wanted that to be me.

Looking back on the day of the attack, it was a formative day in my life. I think about the shark even now and I know I will never forget it. I'm married now and I have a child. As a husband and father, I appreciate life more fully through the unique perspective of my experience with the shark and my survival.

Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Stinson Beach, California

"LAST SHARK SIGHTING – Sunday, August 19." The sign at the edge of the beach attracted little attention. Most of the surfers rushed past without noticing it as they jogged to the water, boards tucked under their arms. The message fluttered on the salt-washed post. Shifting sands showed no footprints anywhere near it. Things had been quiet for the past few days. Stinson Beach with its white sand and gentle waves seemed an unlikely place to find the greatest predator of the deep.

Fog spread over the North Coast. Temperatures soared and summer heat scorched the inland valleys, but along the coast it stayed cool. Whitewater sprayed off the waves and strands of kelp had washed up onto the beach. The sky was grey. Waves offshore at Duxbury Reef could be seen from Stinson Beach. Wind swells were rolling into the beach with waves breaking close to shore. Powerful currents and tides swept along the coast. The Golden Gate Bridge was wrapped in fog. Cars jammed the roads to and from the beach.

The front page of the morning newspaper showed a surfer riding a wave with the headline, "Fog and Wind Advisory for the Coast." The photo showed an ocean that looked wild and windblown, but that was nothing new. Ocean currents here along the North Coast are almost always strong. It looked like a great day for surfing; I didn't want to miss it.

I was sixteen, enjoying the newfound freedom of my driver's license, and it was the last day of summer vacation. School would start the next day and I'd be a junior in high school. Now that I had my license, Mom let me start driving to the beach.

I checked the weather forecast and everything looked good. The National Weather Service had issued a fog advisory for the coast. It was a typical August day along the North Coast of California.

On the East Coast, Hurricane Bonnie made landfall with heavy rain and high surf lashing the coastline. High winds reached up to 115 mph and waves topped out as high as fifty-nine feet. Forecasters warned of severe weather everywhere in the East. Late summer weather could be volatile on every coast.

California surfers know the Pacific Ocean is mostly flat through the summer months, but Sean and I didn't mind. The more experienced surfers become hopeful and excitement increases when waves start to pick up in late August. At times, long-period swells might come off Japan or from a storm in New Zealand, bringing in some good surf. Conditions on the ocean could change in a few hours, or even minutes. We'd be happy to be at the beach no matter what. We were not experienced surfers, but we were eager to learn.

Early that morning I called the beach to ask the lifeguards about the latest conditions for Stinson Beach. From the tower they said the waves looked inconsistent, with an occasional solid peak and a moderate local wind. The recent swell was fading but it didn't really matter to me. My tide calendar, a paper booklet with the tide charts for each day, predicted it would be low tide when we got to the beach. Perfect for catching waves.

I always checked the conditions before heading out because the Pacific Ocean can be dramatic and unpredictable, with shifting weather, currents, and winds influencing the waves. On warm days, rising summer heat draws the fog in over the coast. In August, the Pacific can be flat or rough and it can change in a minute. Cold water and powerful waves can be treacherous for anyone who is not prepared. Unexpected things can happen and no one can predict what a day at the ocean will bring. Especially for a sixteen-year-old boy who had grown up in Illinois before moving to the coast.

I'd known Sean for two years, since our freshman year in high school. We met on the first day at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco and I liked him immediately. We'd been best friends ever since. I was glad Sean had decided to join me for the trip to the beach. We'd driven out to Stinson many times over the summer and it was our favorite place to spend a day. We always had fun together at the beach, spending hours in the water. We wanted to make the most of this day. Summer vacation was almost over; the next day we'd be back in school.

I cruised down the road that morning with my car loaded for a day at Stinson Beach. Breezing along the freeway with my windows down, my hair blowing in the wind, and my board in the back of my car, I was the happiest guy on the road, without a care in the world as I raced toward Mill Valley on my way to pick up Sean. The bright orange board in the back of my car would have been enough to catch any surfer's attention as I hurried along to the cutoff that would take me to Sean's house and then out to the beach.

Sean would be waiting for me, ready to go for a day of riding the waves. Generally, it was an hour to the coast over winding roads across the mountain and down the other side to the beach; but I was sure I could make it in less. I was in a hurry to get out to the beach.

I pulled into his driveway and gave a quick honk. Just as I expected, he rushed out the door, tossed an armload of gear in the back, and hopped into the car. In no time, we were on our way with our favorite Beach Boys music playing, eager to get to the beach. With all the traffic, I knew it was a day for the back roads heading west to the ocean.

Leaving Mill Valley we turned onto Montford Avenue at the old 2 am Club, a corner landmark. It was a popular hangout for locals, a gathering spot with pool tables, a neon sign, and dark windows. The door was always open and we passed it every time we went to Stinson, but we'd never taken time to step inside.

"C'mon Jon, hurry up, make this light."

"Don't worry, Sean, we'll save time by taking the shortcut. The beach will be there, waiting for us."

I watched the road from Mill Valley quickly narrow down to only two lanes. I followed the yellow center line, like a yellow brick road, around sharp curves that hugged the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The shortcut was spectacular, winding around and over Mount Tamalpais, leading us through the trees and out to the beach. Sometimes we saw deer along the edge of the road, or families of California quail parading with their little feather topknots. Views of the ocean along the way were amazing; I could already see the waves.

The steep upward grade wound in and out of hairpin turns through the oak and redwood trees. Damp moss hung from the branches, almost touching the car, and the earth dropped away sharply at the edge of the road. At the top of the hill we entered into the drifting fog and escaped to another world. All thoughts of school vanished and we left our cares behind. To me, the beach was always beautiful, even in the fog.

Sean and I had explored the back roads together many times over the summer and discovered our favorite shortcut to the beach. Mom always worried because the curves were dangerous and even that morning she had reminded me to drive carefully. The funny thing was, she didn't worry so much about the ocean. She knew I was a strong swimmer with years of practice on the Lucas Valley and high school swimming and water polo teams. I'd passed the Red Cross lifesaving classes and worked as a lifeguard at our local neighborhood pool. I could handle the waves and I was not afraid of a little water in my face. Still, I was always cautious in the ocean and I didn't take unnecessary risks. Everyone knows that sharks live in the ocean, especially in the waters of what is called the "Red Triangle." But I'd never focused on the fact that the coastline of Northern California was also the coast of the Red Triangle.

The "Red Triangle" refers to a triangle-shaped geographic area of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Northern California. It stretches approximately 100 miles from Monterey Bay in the south, to Bodega Bay in the north, and out to the Farallon Islands in the Pacific Ocean in the west. These waters are rich with marine life, especially seals, sea lions, and sea otters — favorite meals of the great white shark.

More great white sharks live here in the Red Triangle than anywhere else on Earth. And more shark attacks happen here than in any place in the world, more than in Australia or in South Africa. There are ten times more shark attacks in the Red Triangle than there are along the entire remainder of the California coastline. August through October are known as "shark season" in the Red Triangle, when most shark attacks happen. Late summer brings the sharks closer to shore as they follow the food supply brought to shore by the seasonal upwelling current.

The Red Triangle received its name because of the frequency of shark attacks, and the color of the water after an attack. The abundance of white sharks first prompted divers to call it the "White Triangle." Later, with the number of attacks and the blood in the water, it became informally known as the "Red Triangle." Sometimes also called "Grand Central" for sharks, the area lives up to its name with an average of one to two shark attacks each year.

This infamous stretch of coastline encompasses many popular local beaches, including Stinson Beach, where we were headed. Known mostly to scientists, surfers, and locals, it's not widely known by name, and it's an area not generally designated on maps of the coast. The Red Triangle wasn't marked on any of my maps.

Good waves and beautiful beaches make the Red Triangle an irresistible place for surfing, in spite of its risks as a great white feeding zone. Good swells coming in from far out at sea create well-formed and rideable waves at the beaches along this coastline. The North Coast is known for its year-round good surfing and cold water.

Waves form near the shore when wind or storms out at sea create a disturbance on the surface of the ocean. The wind and air currents create movement in the water called "swells." The swells are huge masses of water that rise and fall with a gentle rolling motion. Swells do not break. They form waves that break when the water becomes too shallow, or when they hit a reef or the shallow ocean floor or a beach that interrupts the movement of the wave and causes it to crash.

I had never really heard about any shark sightings off the coast. An "unofficial" shark sighting was probably not even reported because it was a shark spotting that was undocumented and unconfirmed by lifeguards or park officials. Not every report was reliable because an untrained eye might mistake a dolphin, or even a seal, for a shark. To the trained eye, the triangular dorsal fin of the shark is distinguishable from the more pointed, curved fin of a dolphin. The size and shape of the fin could indicate whether it belonged to a dolphin or a great white shark. And sometimes a shark might just be cruising past and wouldn't stay around. No cause to close the beach.

Until the summer of my sixteenth year my life had been pretty predictable and nothing life-threatening had ever happened to me. Thinking about sharks out in the ocean didn't really worry me because I thought shark attacks were so rare that it was almost impossible it would ever happen to me. I knew sharks lived in the ocean, way out there somewhere. But I felt safe at the beach where I thought nothing could happen.

No one ever talked about seeing sharks at Stinson Beach. I had never heard of a shark attack there, or at any of the beaches I knew, and I would never have expected anyone to be attacked at the beach. In surfing, as with any sport, you take a few risks because you don't think bad things will ever really happen. I'd never envisioned my life being on the line, or having to fight for my next breath. But I knew as well as anyone that you've got to be smart in the ocean. The ocean is a living environment where conditions can change every minute.

I opened my eyes early that morning, too excited to sleep, thinking of our trip to the beach and about riding the waves. I watched the sun come through the fluttering leaves of the orange tree outside my bedroom window. My brother Eric was asleep in his bed next to mine and my brother Michael was sleeping in his room across the hall. The house was quiet but I was wide awake and eager to get going.

I jumped up, pulled on a t-shirt, and hurried down the hallway, headed for the kitchen. I moved quietly. For some reason this morning seemed different and exciting. I grabbed a bowl and the box of Grape-Nuts.

Before going to bed the night before, I had loaded my car with my wetsuit, boogie board, beach towel, water bottle, and wide-brimmed canvas hat. I enjoyed the preparation almost as much as the trip and wanted to be sure I remembered all the things I might need at the beach. I set my sunglasses and keys beside the kitchen door with my sandals, ready for the morning.

After breakfast, just as I was ready to go, my mother walked into the kitchen. I leaned over to give her a hug before I headed out the door.

"Bye, Mom. I'm heading out to pick up Sean. We'll be at Stinson all day."

"Okay. Bye, Jonathan." She brushed a kiss onto my cheek as I hurried past. "Have fun and drive carefully."

"I will. Bye, Mom," I called as the kitchen door slammed behind me. Then I noticed I'd forgotten my sandals so I stepped back inside, slid my feet into my flipflops and turned once again toward the door.

"Bye again, Mom ... love you."

"Bye, Jonathan. I love you, too."

This time the kitchen door slammed with finality, but Mom had already noticed my hesitation and she followed me out to my car. I don't know why, but leaving seemed to take forever that day. And for some reason we had a hard time saying goodbye.

"Jonathan, please be careful on the roads. And don't be late or I'll worry."

"I'll be careful. Don't worry, Mom." I knew she'd be expecting me for dinner and I didn't want her to worry. We'd planned a family gathering for dinner later that evening to celebrate the last day of summer.

Before climbing into the car I gave her one last hug. With so many goodbyes and the lingering farewell, I knew Mom was growing apprehensive about my going to the beach. She looked worried, standing beside my car in a white summer dress, lips pressed together as if holding back a tear. I'll never forget the look on her face. I could tell she didn't want me to go, but she didn't want to say anything. I backed out of the driveway and turned onto the street.

"Bye, Mom." I shouted from my car window one last time, trying to ease her concern. "I'll see you later." My voice drifted down the street on the morning breeze. I'll never know why I said goodbye to my mom so many times. A curious feeling struck me as I drove off, but I didn't believe in premonitions so I didn't let it bother me.

I savored my freedom with the bittersweet joy that summer vacation was nearing an end and tomorrow I'd be in school. Heading for the beach that day reminded me of my childhood when summer days felt wonderfully long and aimless.

In my early days growing up in Illinois, we lived in a quiet neighborhood just two blocks from the little Tower Lakes Beach. The lake was small and calm with hardly a ripple. I took swimming lessons and learned to jump off the wooden dock into the water. Swimming out from shore gave me a sense of freedom.

I spent long summer days in the water with my brothers, Michael and Eric. Mom taught us that brothers are best friends and we were always together. We played sharks and minnows and Marco Polo with our friends laughing and splashing each other. The days were warm and I felt safe in the water even when I couldn't see what was beneath me. Oh, there were fish out there all right and they'd bite my legs, but I came to accept swimming with fish. I didn't bother them and, except for an occasional nibble, they didn't bother me. The lake was warm and safe, with no rip tides, rogue waves, or sharks to worry about.


Excerpted from "Surviving The Shark"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Kathrein and Margaret Kathrein.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments and Credits ix

Introduction xi

Journey to the Coast 1

Stinson Beach 17

Race to the Ocean 31

The Art of Surfing 41

A Blur of Speed and Power 49

Chaos Strikes 55

Out of the Jaws? 61

Repair at the Hospital 73

Media Frenzy 91

Recovery and Healing 97

Life After the Shark 117

Learning About Sharks 129

Shark Science 141

Shark Behavior and Shark-Human Interactions 157

Can We Save the Great White Shark? 183

Afterword 193

How to Avoid a Shark Attack 195

Ocean Conservation Resources 197

About the Authors 199

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Surviving the Shark: How a Brutal Great White Attack Turned a Surfer into a Dedicated Defender of Sharks 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not worth $14
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My little bro really enjoyed this book. He luvs sharks and he wouldnt do the same thing. He also likes the 1st commenters comment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not read this book sucks read 39clues
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