Why are surfers attacked by sharks?

Surfers are more likely to be attacked by sharks for two reasons; they spend more time in the ocean than the average human and surfboards (particularly high-performance shortboards) have a very similar outline to seals when viewed from the perspective of a shark looking up at the surface of the water.

Shark attacks are a relatively rare occurrence but their ferocity and chance of fatality keep them at the forefront of many people’s minds, surfers included.

More than any other demographic, surfers seem to be the worst afflicted by shark attacks. But why is this? Why are surfers attacked by sharks in proportionally greater numbers than other ocean enthusiasts?

We decide to take a deep dive into the world of sharks to find out more about these fascinating creatures and how they interact with surfers all around the world.

So why are surfers attacked by sharks more than other people?

When it comes to the ocean, surfing and sharks are bound to share the same area. So far there have been 65 confirmed shark attacks in 2022 with many of these attacks being on surfers and bodyboarders out trying to catch some waves.

So what causes these attacks? While movies like Jaws may have you thinking it’s a bloodthirsty rampage the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the most part (excluding some particularly aggressive species of sharks) shark attacks on humans are cases of mistaken identity rather than hunting us specifically for food.

Want to know which species are responsible for the majority of incidents involving surfers? Head over to our short read on the ‘big three’ in what kinds of sharks attack surfers.

In extreme cases, shark attacks can lead to the closure of beaches and a ban on swimming just like the ‘shark crisis’ that occurred from 2010 to 2013 on Reunion Island when shark attacks on surfers reached terrifying numbers.

Let’s take a deep dive alongside the ocean’s greatest predator to find out why surfers seem to have so many run-ins with sharks.

Time in the water

Quite simply surfers spend lots of time in the water, passionate surfers will happily surf for several hours seven days a week and being out in the ocean for that long puts you at a much higher chance of running into marine life including sharks.

Profile from below

Sharks are ambush predators. They hunt by swimming underneath their prey and swimming swiftly upwards to attack. While assessing their next target they will use silhouettes cast from above to identify potential prey.

Unfortunately, surfboards, particularly shortboards have a very similar outline to a rather plump seal, a favourite of many species of shark. This unfortunate mistake can leave surfers on the receiving end of an exploratory bite or worse a full-force attack.

In most cases this initial bite will be the full extent of the attack, sharks are known to dislike human blood and the taste of neoprene and will quickly leave when they realise they may not have found the tasty meal they bargained for.

Sadly this small mistake by the shark can have catastrophic and sometimes fatal results for the surfer in question.

Paddling

Splashing while you paddle is one of the most common reasons why sharks approach surfers. When you splash around it sends vibrations through the water. These vibrations attract sharks because they’re either curious or they think it’s a meal.

In the majority of cases, checking you out is all they’ll do but if they’re hungry or water clarity means they have little to no visibility, then the chances of an investigative bite increase.

Worried about letting your four-legged friends play in the surf? Head over to our short read on do dogs attract sharks for more insight.

Provoked attack

While very rare some shark attacks can be provoked by surfers. An example of this would be a surfer inadvertently hitting a shark while surfing along a wave and the shark biting in retaliation either during or immediately after the collision.

How can you avoid being attacked by a shark while you’re out surfing?

Believe it or not, there are steps you can take and products you can use that reduce the chance of running into sharks while you’re out surfing.

By swimming or surfing in the ocean, you have to accept that there is a possibility that you may come close to a shark but for people who are concerned or worried about sharks consider the following.

A shark deterrent bracelet

A shark deterrent bracelet is a groundbreaking technology that is used to stop sharks from swimming in the same area as you. Using patented magnetic technology the bracelet confuses a shark’s electroreceptors.

This will manifest as an unpleasant feeling for sharks causing them to swim away rather than investigate any further. Better yet the model above has a big green tick from the Western Australian government (and they know a thing or two about big sharks).

Avoid surfing after heavy rains

Heavy rains will dislodge debris from the land surrounding rivers which will eventually reach the sea. When this happens all the dirt and debris will mix with sea water reducing water clarity.

Just like humans, sharks rely on sight when hunting alongside their other senses like smell. When a shark’s ability to identify its prey has reduced the chance of an accidental attack increases.

Take caution when surfing river mouths

A recent study was undertaken by Macquarie University and its findings have led to some serious questions about surfing in or around river mouths inhabited by sharks.

They discovered that the risk of an attack by a Great White shark or Bull Shark is much considerably higher when within 1km of a river mouth.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of the interaction between surfers and sharks and why they run into each other on occasion.

It’s really important to understand that whenever we enter the ocean we are entering a realm that contains apex predators that can and will attack in rare circumstances. In all cases of shark attacks, the shark is never at fault and is simply following its instincts.

So why are surfers attacked by sharks more than any other water users? Primarily because they choose to spend so much time in the surf (looking very similar to seals) which happens to be the same place you’ll find sharks hunting for their prey.

Looking for more fascinating reads about surfing? Don’t miss our guides below covering everything related to surf lifestyle.