Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 5:39 pm | Overcast 68º

Here & There

Karen Telleen-Lawton: Paddling With a Shark Off Carpinteria

Have you ever had that dream where you’re naked onstage and everyone is expecting your line and you have no idea what is going on? I lived a similar dream this month, stand-up paddle boarding with my husband.

We started out on Carpinteria Beach — the “world’s safest beach,” as I recall the billboard from my youth.

We often paddle west until we’re just even with Casa Blanca, but this time we dry-bagged a credit card so we could paddle to lunch at Padaro Beach Grill.

The only question was where we should land. We wanted to minimize how far we’d have to haul our boards across the beach, over the rocks, across the tracks, and down the street to the café.

Karen Telleen-Lawton and her husband, David, share lunch after a recent shark encounter off the coast of Carpinteria. Click to view larger
Karen Telleen-Lawton and her husband, David, share lunch after a recent shark encounter off the coast of Carpinteria. (Lisa Coate photo)

With calm ocean conditions and turquoise sky, it was a resort-level paddle. At Santa Claus Lane, David came ashore to investigate. I paralleled him in the water, floating just beyond the surf.

He motioned for me to continue up coast, initially to find the best pathway, and then to avoid a stretch of stronger waves. I dropped to my knees and paddled leisurely, enjoying the view and scanning for the ubiquitous common dolphins.

Then I did see a dolphin fin, only it wasn’t curved like a dolphin’s. It must be a cormorant, I decided, it’s neck stretched high and faced the other way.

I kept looking over, trying to reconcile the shape into a familiar one, when all at once I got that weird feeling like I was center stage and unprepared.

From the beach, David had stopped motioning me on, and instead motioned me in. There were swimmers in the water, but now a half-dozen people were peering out, looking back and forth from the dark fin to me.

My mind froze but my body acted: I stroked quickly into shore. A little boy ran up to ask me, “How big was it?”

I turned to the onlookers, mostly young guys from a surf school. “Yeah,” they confirmed, “it’s a white shark.”

I was incredulous. “Why didn’t you wave me in?”

“You were looking right at him. We thought you knew.”

“Well, you guys all seemed calm, so I told myself it wasn’t.”

The closest one shrugged. “It looks like just a juvenile — seven or eight feet long. They don’t mess with people unless they’re 11 or 12 feet.”

We split the California burger and shrimp and avocado salad, which helped me forget what might lie ahead on our paddle back.

We had no other transportation, unless we wanted to beg strangers to haul us and our boards back to Carpinteria. In fact, a couple families did offer once they heard our story.

We decided that if people were still in the water, we’d take the chance the shark wasn’t interested. At least then there’d be lots of folks to choose from.

I did keep looking over my shoulder, but the return paddle was without incident, and I was proud not to have chickened out.

I know the shark population has increased over the past couple decades, mirroring the recovery of their main seal-lion prey. But the chances of an individual being attacked have not increased because more people are in the water.

We just have to share the water with them for healthy environment.

Heck, I live in Rattlesnake Canyon. And I drive the highways.

Still, I don’t dream about paddling the sharkways.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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