Shark Attack at the Tijuana Sloughs

A surfer strolls the beach near the Tijuana Sloughs.

The swells keep coming. Lots of IB and Nado locals scoring waves everywhere. The groms and I surfed with Kyle Knox on Saturday at an “ultra-secret” spot that had about 50 guys on it. The highlight of the week for the groms was surfing great waves at Seaside on our second session on Saturday with Matt Beacham the host of Fuel TV’s “New Pollution” and Taylor Knox. Taylor, who was ranked 17th on the ASP World Tour in 2010, was of course ripping.

For those of you who think that it is difficult to surf in our modern wetsuits, with leashes and lightweight boards, just remember that Dempsey and his hardcore crew of IB, Nado and La Jolla locals were surfing the Sloughs back in the 1940s and ’50s on redwood surfboards and no wetsuits.

Dempsey Holder: We had an El Niño kind of condition during the summer of 1950. The water was really warm, and there was a south swell—a southern hemisphere swell. Made for some beautiful surfing.

Dr. Clark Hubbs, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1950: An unusual number of sharks have appeared in our waters as a result of prolonged southern winds.

Dempsey Holder: Bob Campbell, Jim Lathers, Dave Hafferly and I went down to the Sloughs. Bob and Dave were bodysurfing. Jim had an air mat he wanted to try out there, and I took out my surfboard. I was the first one out. The other guys were real slow in coming out. They were at least 50 yards behind me.

All of a sudden I heard Bob Campbell holler something. Then Jim Lather hollered, “Shark.” Bob hollered, “Shark.” He had a real frightened tone in his voice. I was sitting there on my board thinking that he had come out here for the first time in deep water, and he saw a porpoise go by and just panicked. “Boy,” I thought, “He’s going to be embarrassed. He really hollered.” Jim hollered at me again. It was a shark. I went over there but I didn’t see the shark. There was blood in the water and Bob grabbed Jim’s air mat.

San Diego Union, Oct. 9, 1950: A man-eating shark tore a chunk out of the thigh of a 31-year-old swimmer off Imperial Beach yesterday morning in what may be the first shark attack ever reported in local waters.

Dempsey Holder: I put the board right underneath him and took him in. Got bit. I’m sure he pulled his legs up. He had marks on his hands. He said it got him twice. Jim Lather saw it. He said it looked like two fins and then it rolled over. We didn’t take long. Everybody was on shore. I took him on my board. He was bleeding from his legs. We took him to see Doc Hayes. He had a little office in the VFW. Bob looked kind of weak. He had that gray look. That shark must have taken a chunk of his leg the size of a small steak.

My book launch celebration is Saturday, Jan. 29, at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor’s Center in Imperial Beach from 6-8 p.m. All are welcome. For more info contact WiLDCOAST.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of “Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.