Kelly Slater on Tuesday won a first-round heat during the Rip Curl Pro Search in San Francisco, inching closer toward claiming an 11th ASP World Tour championship. But more of a buzz centered around Dusty Payne (pictured above), who was frightened out of the water by what he claimed was a large shark.
Hawaii's Payne was surfing against South Africa's Jordy Smith off Ocean Beach when he saw "the biggest fin I've ever seen in my life coming at me."
Payne hurried ashore with about five minutes left in the heat. Smith stayed in the water and won the heat. Lifeguards patrolled the lineup in a small boat before and during the next heat.
Afterward Payne said it was definitely a shark that persuaded him to abandon the heat prematurely. "I've seen dolphins and it wasn't a dolphin," he said.
The competition resumed and Slater prevailed in his heat, and is just one heat victory away from winning an 11th title, during the 10th of 11 World Tour contests. (Only one surfer in the history of the ASP has won as many as four titles.)
"I’m going to try and just be relaxed about it because it’s a situation where you could feel tense in and want to get it over with it," Slater said. "The reality of it is the other guys [ mathematically alive in the title race] have to win both events with my last heat win so the pressure is on them.
"I don’t feel like I can relax, though, because the guys now have to focus and that’s when they could do something magic. That’s how it goes in competition and I don’t doubt that that’s a possibility. It is close. I just need to catch four good waves in this event to win the title."
The timing of the event is not ideal in regard to sharks. Fall is when adult great whites congregate at the Farallon Islands, 25 miles offshore, to feed on elephant seals and sea lions. San Francisco is well within the so-called Red Triangle, which begins at Bodega Bay to the north, points toward the Farallones, and connects at Monterey to the south.
The most recent shark attack within this area occurred Saturday just north of Monterey. A surfer suffered moderate injuries to his arm and neck and the bite to his board was 19 inches in diameter so the predator was very large.
-- Image showing Dusty Payne in action before he abandoned his heat is courtesy of ©ASP/Cestari