Seeing A Shark While Surfing (How To Avoid & How To Act)

Lots of people fear sharks, mainly due to a few movies. It's easy to understand this fear since most sharks tend to look scary. They have three rows of teeth, scary-looking eyes, and a massive body that, in some cases, can swim up to 28 mph (45 km/h). However, this fear is not entirely justified since we are generally not on the shark's menu.

You can minimize the chance of a shark encounter by staying out of the water during certain times of the day and avoiding areas in which sharks like to hunt. When you encounter a shark, you should remain calm, notify others around you, and make your way to a safe area.

Although we might not be the first meal choice of a shark, shark encounters and attacks do happen. There are a few reasons why this happens and a few ways to avoid this from happening or escalating. Keep on reading to ensure that you know how to prevent or respond to unpleasant shark encounters.

Should I be Afraid of Sharks While Surfing?

Although shark attacks do happen and often cause a horrific scene, you shouldn’t be scared of them. The chance it happens to you is between one and three million and one and seven million: cows, coconuts, and bicycling cause more deaths per year.

To be honest, answering this question will make me a hypocrite. I’ve been afraid of sharks since I’ve been a little kid, and I experience this fear every now and again while surfing.

However, the risks of being attacked by a shark are extremely low.

Although there is no recent and exact research on the odds of being attacked by a shark, most articles and studies cite the odds between one and 3 million and one and 7 million.

To put that in perspective, there are an estimated 10 deaths due to shark attacks each year. There are also around 150 deaths per year due to falling coconuts.

In addition, about 22 people get killed by cows each year, an estimated 236.000 people drown each year, and around 41.000 people die riding their bikes each year worldwide.

This doesn’t mean that you should now be more afraid of cows than sharks, but it shows that although there are many beachgoers each year, sharks are not a frequently occurring danger.

However, you should always be aware of the possibility of a shark attack and keep a close eye on your surroundings.

This can also prevent other types of accidents.

Does Surfing Attract Sharks?

Surfing doesn’t necessarily attract sharks.

There are cases in which sharks mistake a surfer for a sea lion or seal, but this is most often because surfers tend to be in locations where sharks like to hunt.

Also, murky water obstructs the view of a shark which might cause them to mistake a shortboard surfer to be a tasty meal.

Another reason why surfers sometimes suffer shark attacks is due to the time of the day in which surfers prefer to catch waves.

Dusk and dawn tend to deliver the best waves with a welcome offshore wind. However, this is also when sharks like to hunt.

Therefore it might seem that surfing attracts sharks, while surfers just often enter the water while sharks are hunting for prey.

​​Where do Most Shark Attacks Take Place?

Most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the coast.

Their preferred hunting grounds are murky water, places with plenty of fish, deep channels, river mouths, areas populated by a seal colony, and places where sewage enters the ocean.

These locations either give them an advantage while hunting or supply plenty of food. 

The countries with the most shark attacks are Australia, the US, and South Africa.

How Many Surfers Get Attacked by Sharks?

Like I said before, the number of surfers getting attacked by sharks differs per year and location. While some places have more frequent shark attacks, others have zero attacks.

The estimated number of people who die each year from a shark attack is 10.

In 2021 there was a total of 73 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide. In 2016 the estimated number of surfers that got attacked was 58%.

Although these numbers change each year, it’s safe to say that a little more than half of the attacks happen to surfers, but most are not fatal.

How to Avoid Sharks While Surfing? (9 Tips)

The short answer:

Avoid surfing during dusk and dawn and in certain areas. Sharks like to hunt in places with lots of food, like river mouths, near sewage pipes, close to fishing boats, and around seal colonies. You’ll avoid sharks by avoiding these areas and by surfing with other people.

The extended answer:

To avoid sharks, it’s essential to know where you will most likely find them and what attracts them.

The following list contains information about places you should avoid due to a more significant density of sharks.

Also, I will describe what you shouldn’t do if you want sharks to stay away.

1. Read the warning signs

There might not be any sharks where you usually surf. However, if a sign on the beach warns you about sharks, then assume that it’s there for a reason.

You can still surf there, but be aware of the possible danger and consider the following points on this list.

2. Be aware of areas where sharks prefer to hunt

These areas are (as I stated before) river mouths, deep channels, places where sewage enters the ocean, near seal colonies, murky water, and around fishing boats.

3. Watch out for murky water

Murky water occurs after rainfall, near river mouths, and due to upwelling  (when warm surface water moves out to the ocean and gets replaced with colder, deeper, and more sediment-rich water).

Murky water obstructs sharks’ eyesight, which can cause them to mistake a surfer for a sea lion or seal.

4. Be aware of your surroundings

If you see a dead whale, headless seal, or lots of screaming people on the beach, this could indicate nearby sharks.

Therefore it’s important to always look around you while surfing so that you can quickly respond when something seems off.

5. Watch out when surfing during dusk and dawn

Most sharks hunt during the night, dusk, and dawn.

While night surfing is not something people frequently do, surfing during dusk and dawn is a common thing.

The waves tend to be better, but the risk of a shark attack also increases. 

6. Surf with other people

There are multiple reasons why you should surf with others. It’s more fun, obviously, but it also tends to be safer.

Regardless of whether you get injured by a shark attack or due to something else, when there are others around, they can help get you out of the water and perform first aid.

That aside, the chance of a shark attack also decreases since they are warier of a group than a single prey.

7. Don’t surf when you’re bleeding

Sharks have a keen sense of smell and can smell blood from a big distance.

Although research has shown that sharks are more attracted to fish blood than human blood, it’s still a risk I wouldn’t advise you to take.

8. Watch what you wear

Although you might want to look flashy while lying on the beach, watch out when surfing in shiny or colorful swimwear or wetsuits.

This also includes shiny rings, bracelets, or any other type of jewelry. Sharks might mistake it for prey and therefore attack you.

Your safest bet is to wear just one color and preferably something dark. Also, try to avoid anything white.

9. Act like a predator rather than a prey

Splashing water around can make you seem like a hurt seal or fish. These are the preferred prey of a shark, and imitating them might cause sharks to attack you.

What to do if You See a Shark While Surfing? (7 Tips)

The short answer:

You should always first alert the people around you when you see a shark. Then you should all calmly go to the nearest safe place where the shark can’t reach you. It’s important never to turn your back on the shark and always follow its movements with your eyes. Be prepared to hit the shark if it attacks you.

The extended answer:

Even though you might always try to avoid shark encounters (using the tips above), there is still a chance that you do encounter a shark.

Those who often surf, for many years, and in different places around the world, have most likely seen a few sharks while surfing.

These shark encounters are often harmless. There are around 500 different types of sharks, but only a dozen of these are considered dangerous for humans.

We can narrow the dozen dangerous sharks down to three that are the most dangerous. These are the great white, tiger, and bull sharks.

The chances are that when you see a shark, it’s one of the many harmless sharks.

However, unless you’re a shark expert, I recommend you follow the following list to minimize the chance of a shark sighting becoming a shark attack.

1. Alert others about the shark

You must alert other swimmers and surfers when you see a shark.

The best way to do this is to shout the word “shark” calmly but loudly. This way, everyone can get to safety.

2. Get out of the water

Don’t stay in the water but find the safest way to reach the shore or a boat.

If you are not near the beach or a boat, try to find a rock, reef, or another shallow area where the shark can’t get you.

3. Don’t take your eyes off the shark

Sharks have different ways to attack.

By keeping your eyes on the shark and not having your body constantly pointed in the same direction, you will look more like a predator, minimizing the chance of a surprise attack.

4. Stay calm

Trying to swim rapidly or making sudden movements can attract the shark’s attention.

Splashing water can make you seem like wounded prey, which attracts the shark’s attention. While calmly moving toward a safe area, you should not turn your back on the shark.

5. When being attacked, defend yourself by attacking the shark

Sharks like easy prey. Therefore it’s advised to hit a shark when it attacks you.

You can do this by hitting it in the eyes, gills, or nose (the only vulnerable areas of a shark). You will hurt the shark, which then might retreat.

This is a fight without any rules, so make sure to hit it with everything you have. You can use your surfboard, a rock, or a sharp object.

If you don’t have an object you can use as a weapon, you should use any part of your body.

It’s best to hit the shark when it moves toward you before it bites you!

Don’t worry. You won’t be able to kill it, but it might save you from losing any limbs or possibly dying.

6. Don’t stop fighting until the shark retreats

If one hit doesn’t scare the shark away, keep hitting and scratching it until it does.

Make sure to stay on guard until you reach a safe area since the shark might return.

7. Get first aid or give first aid when needed

The person that got attacked by the shark must receive first aid as soon as possible.

By responding quickly, you can save a life.

The bleeding must be stopped as quickly as possible, and medical professionals should be alerted so that an ambulance can be on the scene as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does surfing on your period attract sharks?

Sharks can indeed detect blood from far away. However, there is no evidence, nor is there any research proving that menstrual blood attracts sharks.

Menstrual fluid comes in low quantities, and only one part of it is blood.

Furthermore, research proves that sharks prefer fish blood compared to human blood.

Does peeing in the ocean attract sharks?

Although sharks can detect pee, among other body fluids, the myth that it attracts sharks is false.

Mammal blood or urine just doesn’t interest sharks as much as fish blood or fluids.

How do you get over the fear of sharks while surfing?

Research the actual risk of a shark attack, use common sense, stay out of sharky areas, and surf with people who aren’t as afraid of sharks.

Of course, it’s alright to fear sharks to a certain degree. But, don’t let your fear stop you from entering the water and enjoying surfing.


The chance of a shark attack happening is extremely low, and you can lower the risk even more by learning how to avoid a shark attack.

In my previous eighteen years of surfing, I have slowly overcome my fear of sharks (which used to affect me even in swimming pools) by learning more about sharks.

However, if you are so unlucky that you experience a shark attack, there is still a big chance that you will survive it!

(Click here to find out how dangerous surfing is apart from sharks)

Marcus Campbell

Surfing is the biggest passion in my life. Transferring my knowledge about surfing to others is what I love doing most! I do this through my own surf school and through my articles on this website. This is how I hope to get everyone excited about this amazing sport!
March 31, 2022
Published: March 31, 2022