David Stickler takes his dog, Brutus, out on a stand-up paddleboard regularly from Lovers Point, getting some exercise, enjoying the scenery and watching the wildlife. The calm, relatively windless morning of Wednesday, Aug. 10 were ideal conditions for a paddle, so Stickler and Brutus headed out as usual, facing the direction of Aptos across the bay.
When he was about 150 yards offshore, Stickler noticed the cormorants were behaving unusually, so he paused to watch—he's used to following birds to feeding frenzies where he might be able to see whales. "The way the cormorants fly, it's always very linear, like they are on a path and they know exactly where they're heading," Stickler says. "I started noticing that none were flying together—they were not circling, but turning in whirly, swoopy patterns, not flying like cormorants at all."
Then he noticed a figure dive under the front, left side of his board and his first thought was that it might be a small whale, or a very big dolphin. Then he saw a figure come from the back righthand side and hit his board, jostling his balance. He lost his paddle, and Stickler got down on hands and knees to keep his center of gravity low to stabilize the board for him and Brutus.
The shark bit down on the front right side of the board, and Stickler describes it tightened its grip and thrashed—but it wasn't until it released its grip that the board was tipped. He's not sure whether it was the shark's tail or maybe a more deliberate action that destabilized the board, but it flipped over, and Stickler and Brutus were in the water.
"I had to immediately get the board flipped, get myself on the board, then get my dog on the board," he says. "At that moment I was just kind of was hunkering down. I didn't know if it was going to come back, so I had to be strong and low, and by now my paddle was 30 yards away. I was not going to paddle with my hands and look like a seal—I wasn't about to put my hands in the water."
That's when Stickler heard a relatively nearby whale watching boat captain get on a loudspeaker and ask if he needed help—they'd seen a commotion. Stickler waved them over, and the captain escorted him back to his paddle so that he could comfortably paddle back to shore.
The group on the private boat tour, Stickler says, was about a dozen Buddhists, gathered in a circle in prayer. "They just gathered and I saw them all praying for me—that was the most amazing blessing," he says. "That's who is watching me go to safety."
Stickler, who lives in Pacific Grove, spent time living in a Tibetan village studying Buddhism and Bon Shamanism. He now teaches movement and yoga.
Stickler paddles a large 11-foot-8-inch board, and estimates the shark was about the same size. Pacific Grove Police kept his board for a follow-up investigation for Department of Fish and Wildlife officials to collect DNA and analyze the bite marks, and they will then return the board to him.
In keeping with California State Parks protocol, Pacific Grove PD closed Lovers Point and coastal access up to the Sea Palm turnout until at least Saturday, Aug. 13.
It's the second shark incident at Lovers Point this summer. On June 22, a similarly warm, calm Wednesday, Steve Bruemmer was swimming when he was bitten by a great white shark. Bruemmer was rescued and is continuing to recover from his injuries and regain mobility in his legs.
Sharks are always in these waters, but human-shark encounters remain rare.
Stickler says he'll get back on his board, but probably not until the warmer-than-typical water cools down again. He was last out on his board the day before Bruemmer was bitten, and then again today, Aug. 10—when his own board was bitten.
"I just feel very alive, very grateful, and the buzzing energy of a mild shock," he says.
As for Brutus, who is used to getting into the ocean for a swim, Stickler says he was clearly terrified that something dangerous was happening, but by the time they got back to the beach, Brutus was overcome by cuddles and affection from the people on shore.