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Beachgoers not deterred by shark fears

In spite of a being closed Thursday and Friday because of the sighting of a shark, Mission Beach opened Saturday and had less bathers, and some who hadn't heard the news.
In spite of a being closed Thursday and Friday because of the sighting of a shark, Mission Beach opened Saturday and had less bathers, and some who hadn't heard the news. (John Gastaldo)
Jaime Velarde, rear, tries to scare his daughter Valette Velarde, 8 with his kelp-covered body at Mission Beach Saturday morning.
Jaime Velarde, rear, tries to scare his daughter Valette Velarde, 8 with his kelp-covered body at Mission Beach Saturday morning. (John Gastaldo)

San Diego may be having its own "Shark Week," thanks to the great white that was possibly spotted near Mission Beach, but those brave enough to head to the shore Saturday didn't seem too concerned.

Following a two-day closure of Mission Beach on Thursday and Friday, swimmers and surfers were allowed back in the water after no shark was spotted in the water for 24 hours.

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"It was on my mind, but not really," said Kevin Flynn, who went surfing in the spot the shark was reported. "Though I did make sure to find a buddy out on the water, just in case."

Flynn, a surfer for 30 years, said he's never seen a shark in the ocean even though he knows they're out there.

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Stand-up paddle surfer, Marshall Myrman, who was out in the water when the great white was reported Friday, was back out Saturday.

"It's the ocean, it's where sharks live. I just saw schools of dolphin this morning," he said. "I was already done when the warning came out on Friday, but if I hadn't been, and the surf was good, I probably would've taken the fine and stayed out there."

Lifeguards said the medium-sized crowd at Mission Beach was fairly consistent with what they expected as the summer season winds down.

"Earlier, I wasn't quite sure whether there would be a lot of in-water activity but (this afternoon) there's been quite a bit," said San Diego lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma. "We didn't expect the crowds to be heavy because people have turned the chapter from beach attendance to school.

"I think there's a certain level of sophistication with the beach crowd. People who approached me didn't seem to be intimidated or have a great deal of trepidation."

Patricia Clayton, who was in town from Riverside, didn't let her six- and seven-year-old grandsons put on swimsuits for their beach visit. Instead, the boys wore shorts and T-shirts and were instructed to only get their feet wet. But that didn't last very long.

"Look at them, their clothes are soaked," she laughed. "I'd be afraid if they were out there trying to surf. But here on the wet sand, it's OK."

Lerma emphasized that his crew was going to remain on alert throughout the weekend for any possible signs of further shark appearances.

While the lifeguards are happy to take reports from members of the public who may believe they have seen a shark, such sightings are not the most reliable way to gauge whether the waters are safe, he added.

"Taking reports from the public could be a little dicey," he said. "If we closed the beach every time someone thought they saw a shark, we'd be closed a lot of the time. There are a lot of fins out there, and a lot belong to dolphins, porpoises and seals.

"Seals like to bask in the sun, and one of their fins will stick straight up, which can look an awful lot like a shark. It's all about interviewing people and asking a lot of questions to determine their ability to discern between the different fins."

Actually, the most menacing creature hanging around Mission Beach was Jaime Velarde, who covered his body in layers and layers of seaweed and chased his family like a sea monster.

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Velarde drove to town from Arizona and headed straight for the ocean before even checking into his hotel.

"I didn't know about the shark," he said. "If I had known, I wouldn't have been in the water. But I'm here to have fun and I'll continue to have fun, but maybe I won't go in as deep now."

Ten-year-old Hayley Curradi of Arizona, who was being chased by the Velarde sea creature, said she also didn't know about the great white but had a gut feeling something was going on.

"Usually I go way out there," she said. "But something told me to be more cautious, I just had a feeling," she said.

La Jolla Shores was jampacked with divers, surfers, kayakers and even toddler birthday parties.

"No I'm not worried about it," said Morgan Marante who was playing in the waves there with his 6-year-old daughter. "We won't be going very deep."

And there were plenty of people who went to the beach just so they could get close to sea life, like snorkelers Sabrina Cole and Theresa Johnson.

"We came out to see the sharks," said Coble. "Not the great white, but we were hoping to see leopard sharks."

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