Shark Boy’s new career is almost as bizarre as the previous chapter.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Agrown man swims inside an 8-foot-tall fish tank in a Pacific Grove backyard. That would be Todd Endris, owner of Monterey Aquarium Services. Once a month, he dons a wetsuit and scuba gear, climbs a ladder to the tank’s edge, and hops into his client’s personal piece of the world’s oceans for routine maintenance, while she, a diminutive Chinese woman in her 70s with a bamboo pole in hand, is right behind him, standing atop the ladder overseeing the operation. It’s hard to give directions to someone who’s underwater, so Endris’ client lets her stick do the talking, poking him when she wants his attention.
“I used to be pissed about it,” Endris recalls. “Now I chuckle when I get jabbed.”
For Endris’ client (who asked to remain anonymous), the 6,500-gallon, living-room-sized tank is an obsession. “Her husband has had it up to here,” Endris says, with a hand near the top of his head. “Maybe higher.” Endris estimates the tank has swallowed a million dollars of the couple’s cash. “She talks to me monthly about taking it down,” Endris says. But her actions are more telling. Endris says she’s just bought a new 250-gallon tank and has asked him to pick it up in Roseville.
“I’m like, ‘Are you kidding?’” he says. “I snicker and she gives me a smile.”
The wordless understanding between the retired hotel owner and the 26-year-old surfer comes from their shared undersea obsession.
“I’m the same, but opposite,” Endris says. “She puts money in. I make money.” The CSU Monterey Bay grad makes $65 an hour, plus proceeds from all the homegrown coral and salt water he can sell. Only professional surfing would beat his current job, Endris says.
Local surfers and Weekly readers might remember Endris by another moniker – Shark Boy – so named after he survived a white shark attack in 2007, only to continue riding at the same Marina beach where he nearly lost his life.
Endris’ obsession with the oceans started when he was 10 and a fishbowl grew into ever-more-sophisticated aquarium set-ups. Nine years ago, he came to the Peninsula from San Jose to study for a career in teaching at CSUMB, then found that he could make more money tending the worlds of fellow aquarium lovers.
His clients include On the Beach Surf Shop, Blanco Circle Dental Care and the Navy Lodge. His most ambitious assignment, the 6,500-gallon tank, is currently out of commission, thanks to one of the occupational hazards of aquarium keeping. A lovely but nasty soft coral called palythoa began multiplying on the bottom and sides of the tank, releasing a mucus-like substance that ancient Hawaiian warriors would use to coat their spears for battle. Just 20 micrograms of the slime – an amount as small as a grain of sand – can kill a human being if ingested. Inside the tank, Endris’ face would go numb just from getting near the slippery secretions, and when he drank water, it would taste of metal. Finally, his client decided the aquarium was too dangerous, and drained it. In the coming weeks, she and Endris will put the massive display back together again.
A smaller project takes Endris to Bookkeeping Management Services in Monterey.
The unassuming 125-gallon tank here is no Monterey Bay Aquarium Outer Bay exhibit. But an entire world lives inside this glass box, one with its own pecking order, rules and dangers. It’s a like a living version of Where’s Waldo – the closer you look the more you see. The soft coral is alive, eating, growing and reproducing atop a bed of ancient coral skeletons – 200 pounds of it from as far away as Fiji and Tonga. Although they aren’t immediately visible, a small army of snails and hermit crabs share janitorial duties with Endris, voraciously feeding on fish poop and coral excrement.
Endris scrapes the glass inside the tank with a mini-squeegee, dislodging a starfish the size of a pencil eraser. “Everything’s going to close up and get really upset right now,” he says.
“They hide when Todd comes,” says Karen Green, a bookkeeper at the firm.
But an urchin, a black-quilled porcupine-of-the sea, remains, its poison spines swaying with the water’s motion.
“I get nabbed by him about once a month,” Endris says.
When the job is done, Endris and his black pit bull mix Cosmo jump into his truck and move on to the next job.
Business is so brisk, even with the economy, uh, in the tank, that Endris is thinking of hiring help. That teaching career’s no longer the plan.
“I’m so stoked to be doing what I’m doing,” he says.