Surf-Lovin’ Surfrider Fears Not the Great White Shark Bite

Bob­by Gum­m’s surf­board after the ‘bump’ from a great white shark.

On Octo­ber 20, 2011, Char­lie Ply­bon stood on a Cen­tral Ore­gon beach calm­ly tap­ping out a warn­ing on his smart­phone. The tone of his mes­sage, which would go out to his 800+ Face­book friends and the count­less oth­er local surfers they shared it with, was strange­ly calm and reaf­firm­ing con­sid­er­ing what he’d just wit­nessed. It read sim­ply, “Bob­by just got shark bit at South Beach…surf with caution!”

Ply­bon’s friend Bob­by Gumm, a 41-year-old father of four and 25-year surf­ing enthu­si­ast, was sit­ting on his board sur­round­ed by three-foot swell when a Cadil­lac-sized great white shark gave him a lit­tle bump.

“A lit­tle bump.” That’s how the effort­less­ly under­stat­ed Ply­bon, a 35-year old ocean activist who lives in New­port, Ore­gon, described it over the phone yes­ter­day. Anoth­er surfer who was on the scene described the inci­dent a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly to the Ore­gon­ian just after it happened:

“It looked like pira­nhas, you know how they get in a fren­zy. I called to a friend and he said, ‘Wow, there is some­thing hap­pen­ing to Bob­by,’ and then we saw the 2‑foot dor­sal fin com­ing up, and at the same time it looked like Old Faith­ful, the geyser shot up. I see the tail of his board shoot for the sky.”

Incred­i­bly, Gumm was unin­jured. But the shark’s explorato­ry bite sliced his board clean in half. Ply­bon shrugs off see­ing his friend pro­pelled through the air by the great white with a mat­ter-of-fact, “Ore­gon waters are sharky.”

In the inter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I know Plybon—at least as well as you can know some­one you’ve had occa­sion­al drinks with at var­i­ous Out­door Indus­try events—and can say with con­fi­dence that he’s not one for chest thump­ing. So I believe him when he says that sharks don’t wor­ry him, even though he has a litany of friends who’ve had close encoun­ters and despite the fact that he’s been “brushed” by a big toothy himself.

“You’ve got more of a chance of get­ting struck by light­en­ing twice than of get­ting bit by a shark,” says Ply­bon. “I’m more con­cerned about the qual­i­ty of the water. I’ve actu­al­ly got­ten sick from the ocean a few times.”

Surfrid­er Foun­da­tion beach cleanup event in Oregon

Ply­bon is on a mis­sion to fight the real threat lurk­ing in our oceans: Pol­lu­tion and marine debris. He’s one of only a hand­ful of full­time employ­ees at The Surfrid­er Foun­da­tion, a nation­al non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion focused on the pro­tec­tion and enjoy­ment of oceans, waves, and beach­es. As the Ore­gon Field Man­ag­er, his job is to help facil­i­tate the 600-some wave-chas­ing vol­un­teers through­out the state as they pur­sue var­i­ous actions—from beach cleanups to full-on polit­i­cal campaigns—in an effort to pro­tect the nat­ur­al resource that dou­bles as their playground.

Ply­bon edu­cates school­child­ren about ocean pollution.

Found­ed in Mal­ibu in 1982, Surfrid­er is com­prised of over 50,000 vol­un­teers in 90 chap­ters world­wide. More than a bunch of surf bums who sit around bon­fires talk­ing about chang­ing the world (they do that, too), vol­un­teers are pas­sion­ate activists who are instru­men­tal in defend­ing beach access and shap­ing marine envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies around the country.

Port­land Surfrid­er unleash­es plas­tic bag mon­sters on City Hall dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny to ban plas­tic bags in the city

In our home state of Ore­gon, as in every state that has chap­ters, Surfrid­er is a pow­er­house orga­ni­za­tion. In 2011, as part of its Rise Above Plas­tics cam­paign, the Port­land chap­ter led the ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful charge to ban plas­tic shop­ping bags in the city. In 2014, the Ore­gon Depart­ment of Health will have to stop mon­i­tor­ing ocean clean­li­ness in recre­ation areas due to bud­get cuts that have already been made. When that hap­pens, vol­un­teers for Surfrid­er’s Blue Water Task Force, a pro­gram designed to mon­i­tor bac­te­ria lev­els in the ocean, will be the only ones pro­vid­ing data to the state.

Pro­tect­ing access to and the health of our oceans is a daunt­ing task but the orga­ni­za­tion con­tin­ues to see increased mem­ber­ship every year. Accord­ing to Ply­bon, it’s not dif­fi­cult to under­stand why the grow­ing and seem­ing­ly unstop­pable wave that is Surfrid­er seems to nev­er break.

“Peo­ple that surf don’t kind-of surf. They surf. They love to surf. They love the ocean and have a strong con­nec­tion to it. And you nat­u­ral­ly want to pro­tect what you love,” he says. Ply­bon is quick to point out that Surfrid­er is not the black suits and heli­cop­tors of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency in Wash­ing­ton D.C. It’s just a bunch of active peo­ple who rec­og­nize the impor­tance of keep­ing the ocean healthy.

Surfrid­er Foun­da­tion beach cleanup event.

“I believe it’s that tan­gi­ble expe­ri­ence of see­ing and being in an envi­ron­ment that makes you want to pro­tect it. The joy of glid­ing across a wave with the sun beat­ing down on your face with just no wor­ries and no cares in your mind; that’s some­thing you can’t put a price on and that you’d do any­thing to protect.”

Vis­it Surfrid­er’s web­site to find out how you can get involved.

Shop any of our DAKINE, Great Lakes Pad­dle­boards, Ocean Mind­ed, Free­wa­ters, or Shorts & Tees sales events today and a por­tion from your order will ben­e­fit the Port­land Chap­ter of the Surfrid­er Foun­da­tion. And the folks at Great Lakes Pad­dle­boards are match­ing the dona­tion 1:1.

Here’s a cool PSA that Surfrid­er cre­at­ed through its Rise Above Plas­tics campaign: