Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Huntington Beach Shark Attack: Email interview with Tom Larkin (the guy whose board was apparently better tasting that you would have thought).

After my post the other day I got an email from Tom Larkin, the guy whose board got munched. He seemed a little bummed by some of the media’s response to his story, which is understandable. I am pretty aware of how the media can twist things around…and even the junk that I post up on the blog gets bent around to my personal perspective. So I thought it would be good to get the story first-hand from Tom…and he was cool enough to answer a few of my questions about the incident.

So here is the interview, emailed to me from Tom. I haven’t changed anything except to remove spaces to make it more format friendly.

Interview with Tom Larkin:

Where do you normally surf? What would you consider your local spot?

El Porto

What brought you down to HB, and dog-beach that morning?

Came down the night before for a friend’s b-day. We were going to surf Blackies, but it was flat, so everyone headed north.

What kind of board where you riding? What size? (In the picture it looks like it has carbon fiber deck).

6’6 DOC bat tail quad (It’s an AVISO, all carbon fiber)

About what time did you actually paddle out?


Was anyone surfing with you or near you?

2 friends, but they got out and were watching me from the parking lot. A couple of bodyboarders to the north about 150 yds, one guy had just gotten out before I came in.
And there were a couple longboarders further south (about 200 yds) on the better peak.

How long were you in the water before you got hit?

About an hour

Did you recognize what was happening initially? When did you figure out what was going on?

Nope….sort of when I was belly riding in, definitely when I turned the board up and all the water it took on poured out of the bite.

Describe the attack…How long did it last? How violent was it?

Maybe 5 seconds. It wasn’t a huge jolt, kind of like a jerky teeter totter with a lot of bubbles from the board, and then it calmed down again and I caught the next wave.

Did you actually see or touch the shark?

No, I thought it was a board malfunction (leash plug o-ring popped), so I didn’t even turn around.

How freaked out were you?

On the beach I was freaked out, but also buzzing with how lucky I was. I guess I was in shock for a while.

Are you planning on staying out of the water for a while?

No. I figure I’ve had my brush with the boss.

Will you surf the HB/Bolsa/Dog Beach area again?

Wouldn’t be my first choice, but if it’s epic……

Is there any doubt in your mind that it was a shark?


Any doubts that is was a "great white"?

I’ll defer to the experts on this one. Call Ralph Collier at the shark research committee, or Dennis Kelly at Orange Coast College, marine science dept.

Here’s the relevant part of an article posted a couple days ago.

Quoted From
March 31st, 2008 posted by Laylan Connelly

I had to talk to the expert, Ralph Collier.

Let’s throw down this man’s credentials first. He’s the president of the Shark Research Committee, and he started in 1962 as a field investigator tracking great whites’ behavior for the Smithsonian Institute and the Office of Naval Research. He also claims to be the scientist who in the 70s developed the measuring techniques used to calculate shark size based on shark tooth punctures.And he spits out stats like: “From 1900 to the present, there have been 145 attacks, about 87 percent attributed to the white shark.”

Collier says the great white is indigenous to the Pacific Coast and North America.
“We have had more confirmed sightings along the entire Pacific Coast then they’ve had any other place in the world,” he said.


Apparently, they come close to shore to give birth, especially around spring during grunion season. Adult female white sharks give birth in March and April, near shore. Then the juveniles – about 4-feet long when born - stick around for a year or two.

As for Tom’s claim, he said there’s no doubt it was a great white that nailed the board. He said there are plenty of photographs from the 20th century of surfboards with no damage to the rudder.

When asked about lifeguards dismissing the claim, he said: “The people the media are quoting don’t know the first thing about it. I don’t critique them in the lifesaving duties. When it comes to science, they should leave it to the experts in that field.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they don’t want people to think about sharks when you go to the beach,” he said.

He said the shark that bit Larkin’s board was 16-to-17 feet in length. He’s going to pick up the board and physically examine it himself.

“If I was going to guess, it was very possible this was a female
shark coming in close to shore to possibly give birth, or has given birth and is
still in the area,” he said. Oh, and there’s no doubt it was a great white.

As far as the claim that sharks don’t come around here, he cites a number of cases: A white shark was caught off the Huntington Beach pier two years ago. There was a fatal attack of a diver in 1959 in La Jolla. And a kayaker was killed in Malibu in 1989, with the other kayaker’s body never found.

He forgot to mention the great white picked up a few years back about 16 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, taken to the Monterey Aquarium to be put on exhibit.

“We have to realize our place in nature. We’re Subject to the animals that live there. For anyone to assume that couldn’t happen, they’re foolish,” he said.

(Make sure to check out Laylan’s full story at

Back to the questions…

Because of the timing (coming so close to april fools day), and the location's history of pranks, you have taken a little heat from the lifeguards, press, and the always brave "random anonymous posters on the internet"…did you think there was going to be such a response when you made the report to the HB Lifeguards and the Shark Research Committee?

Not at all. I didn’t know about the sea snake fiasco until a couple of days ago. But I suppose I figured the pictures of tooth marks in both rails with a 21 inch diagonal bite radius would make the lifeguards take notice and become a little more vigilant in regards to beach patrolling or public notification.

You mentioned in your email that Lt. Mike Beuerelin (I am assuming from the HB Guards) issued an apology to you…what were the circumstances of that?

I called him yesterday and told him that I wasn’t trying to be a thorn in his side through the media, but that I was pretty upset at being called a liar on CBS. He explained he was on vacation during the interview for the LA times, and that the views expressed by Mr. Reuter (the MSO interviewed) were not those of the Dept. and he was sorry if it came across like that.

Any final words to the readers?

Be careful. Don’t surf alone, don’t surf during grunion runs, and if you feel weird get out of the water.

Here are some Pics of Tom’s board…(courtesy of Tom)

At the end of the day both Tom and Ralph (the shark expert) have some good points…the ocean can be a dangerous place…and you can get hurt in it. On the flip side of that coin the odds are against shark attacks…and personally I feel that if you take the right precautions…and don’t have incredibly bad luck, (especially when it comes to great white sharks), you can still enjoy it.

*Special thanks to Tom Larkin, Laylan Connelly, and the Ocean Media bullpen for helping me roll this together.


Jacob said...

doesn't exactly look like a shark bite to me, just a nasty crack. But if he says it was a shark then i guess it was a shark. Thanks for the interview!

lukeh said...

its carbon fiber board, which means its basically indestructable.

Anonymous said...

Wow, not one mention of this attack at HB in the news in light of the shark attack in San Diego this past week. Same Shark? News media not doing their job or intentional due to Tourist dollars? Love how everyone quickly dismissed the HB shark attack, now a man is dead in San Diego.

Anonymous said...

DUDE that, for sure, is a shark's freaking bite mark. Carbon fiber boards are tough but they aren't "indestructible." That's so lucky. I've actually had a little run in with a little 3ft. sand shark down closer to the pier. Went right in between my legs when I was standing in waist deep water.