According to the Chinese zodiac, it’s the year of the monkey. But to surfers (for whom most years could be called Year of the Shark) 2016 looked more like the Year of the Crocodile, with one gruesome attack at a surf spot and, just last week, two sightings during a WQS event. Though all those incidents took place in Costa Rica (as did another in 2015) crocs lurk near surf spots throughout Mexico and Central America, and even Indonesia.
Not worried? Kelly Slater has been quoted saying he’d rather paddle out with sharks than crocs, and we ain’t prone to questioning The King.
That’s why we talked to an expert to find out where you’re most likely to encounter them and what to do if that happens. (Paddle like a sumbitch!)
1. Avoid Rivermouths
This is practical, right? Costa Rica has a rivermouth break for every restaurant that sells gallo pinto (which is all of them) and ditto for much of Central America. If you’re going there to surf, you’ll probably hop from rivermouth to rivermouth. You might even be tempted to make a quick paddle across a brown estuary rather than opt for a long drive to a bridge. The best advice would be, opt for the long drive. Because wherever murky water and mangrove are found, you can assume that cocodrilos are nearby.
But get this: Crocodiles will travel hundreds of miles at sea, partly by surfing ocean currents, which explains why they’re sometimes lurking in places like South Carolina and Barbados, far from their prime habitat.
They cruise the coast “as a sort of highway between river systems,” says Brandon Sideleau, creator of the self-explanatorily named database CrocBite. These long-distance swimmers are often mid-sized males chased out of their home river system by large, aggressive males. Mid-sized means in the 6-to-10-foot range, by the way (they can reach 16 feet).
Mexico is actually the croc-iest country in Latin America, with 12 attacks this year resulting in two deaths (though these attacks were not necessarily at surf spots). This year in Costa Rica, 8 reported croc attacks took place, only one of which was deadly, according to CrocBite.
2. Surf With a Partner, and Only During the Day
“The American crocodile is not a true man-eater, though they’ll sometimes stalk humans as prey,” says Sideleau. Paddling out for a few glassy waves might seem like a cruisey morning to you. But to a croc it could be perceived as a threat to their territory or hatchlings. Sorry, but being in the lineup, 100 yards of more offshore, doesn’t lessen the likelihood of an attack.
3. Go For the Eyes
In Costa Rica, most coastal attacks are by those mid-sized crocs, and fatal attacks are rare. If you do have some very bad luck and encounter one, make sure your incident doesn’t buck that trend — fight. Gouge the eyes, hit the snout and hope like hell it’s not your time.