Surfer ‘Fortunate And Humbled’ After Shark Encounter

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Sharks

The photo, taken by Joe Mault of Orleans Camera, shows the moment that Zimmerman spies the white shark cruising just behind his feet. JOE MAULT / ORLEANS CAMERA

ORLEANS — It was a little too close for comfort for a surfer off Nauset Beach Friday morning, after a white shark passed within feet of his board.

“The whole experience still feels utterly surreal,” said Devon Zimmerman of Brooklyn, N.Y., reflecting on the encounter. Zimmerman was near the center of Nauset Beach, by the administration building, and had just paddled out.

“It couldn't have been more than five minutes or so. It was between sets, I was lying on my board and heard a rustle in the water. I looked over my left shoulder and thought it was a seal at first popping out of the water,” he said. “I realized then it was the head of the shark, and it only really registered when I saw the dorsal fin emerge from the water.”

Zimmerman froze. Despite the warning signs around the beach, Zimmerman hadn’t seen any seals in the area.

“I had watched the surf for about 15 or 20 minutes before paddling out and didn't notice a single seal pass on by,” he said. “There were only a few surfers south, down the beach a bit. That's it.”

Having grown up in California, Zimmerman had seen sharks before while on the water, including small leopard sharks and a thresher, but never anything threatening.

“This was my first encounter with a great white. It was just so large,” he said. “It was one of the lasting impressions of the whole experience, just its size.”

With the shark between him and shore, Zimmerman didn’t have many options.

“I just lifted my feet out of the water and waited for it to pass. Fortunately, very fortunately, it had no interest in me and was just cruising the beach. I then tried to paddle to the beach as quickly—and quietly—as possible,” he said.

When he made it to shore, he noticed a few people who had been watching him, including photographer Joe Mault of Orleans Camera.

“I got up to the walkway over the dunes and approached Joe and a few other people standing there and said, ‘Oh my god! Did you guys see that?’ And Joe responded something along the lines of, ‘Did I? I got the whole thing on camera.’ He showed me his incredible photograph, and I was just left in shock.”

The sighting was forwarded to the Orleans Natural Resources Department, which posted it to the Sharktivity app. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy used the photo to remind beachgoers that, based on information from the shark population study in recent years, the waters off the Lower Cape are particularly sharky at this time of year.

“This is a good reminder that white shark activity is still at its peak off the coast of Cape Cod through October,” the Conservancy tweeted Friday.

For Zimmerman, the encounter was one he won’t soon forget.

“I am fortunate and humbled,” he said.