Lance Nelson spent Saturday morning surfing the choppy waves south of Manhattan Beach Pier, just like he has most days this summer.
More umbrellas than usual dotted the shoreline, signs of the Fourth of July holiday weekend crowd. Other than that, the 13-year-old, who lives in the neighborhood, said things seemed normal.
Until 9:30 a.m.
He heard a shrill, top-of-your lungs scream and turned toward a man flailing in the water nearby. Then he heard other people screaming: “Get a lifeguard! Get a lifeguard!”
Nelson started to paddle toward the man but then got spooked.
“I saw blood spread through the water,” he said. “It was just like a movie, but worse.”
A seven-foot juvenile great white shark had attacked a swimmer near the pier, authorities said.
The unidentified victim, described as a long-distance swimmer between 35 and 40 years of age, suffered a single bite wound on the right side of his rib cage. He was taken to Harbor UCLA Medical Center and was described as stable.
Witness Aram Ozen was also surfing out near the end of the pier when the attack occurred.
At first, Ozen said, people thought the victim was having trouble swimming. Then Ozen suddenly heard a couple of people screaming, “White, white!” referring to a great white shark.
“It was a scary scream,” Ozen said. “It was kind of freaky. There was a lot of people screaming back to shore.”
Ozen said other surfers started paddling out to help the victim back to shore as officials cleared everyone out of the water.
“I saw blood on his right rib,” he said. “He was a little bit in shock.”
Witnesses told authorities that the shark bit the anchovies-and-sardines bait on the hook a fisherman had thrown into the water from the edge of the pier. They said the shark was hooked for about 45 minutes and was thrashing around in the water when he bit the swimmer about 9:30 a.m.
“He was trying to get off the line,” said Capt. Tracy Lizotte, a Los Angeles County lifeguard at the beach. “He was agitated and was probably biting everything in his way and then the swimmer swam right into the shark's line.”
Lizotte said it's not uncommon for sharks to swim in waters past the pier's edge.
“That's where they live,” Lizotte said. “It's their home.”
He stressed that sharks usually avoid people and said this case was unique because the animal had become agitated.
“This was an accident,” Lizotte said.
For the rest of the day word trickled from group to group up the shoreline.
“Did you guys hear?” a man whispered as he walked up to a group of girls tanning nearby.
They said they hadn't.
“Shark attack,” he said.
A girl in an American flag bikini gasped and her friend made the sound from the "Jaws" theme. Nearby, a woman in a lifeguard jacket walked up to a boy in green swim trunks who had waded five feet into the water.
“Hey!” she shouted, over the sound of crashing waves. “You really can't be in there.”
For most of the day, lifeguards kept people off the pier and out of the water along a two-mile stretch of beach as authorities coaxed the shark into deeper waters.
Early in the day, beachgoers were struck by the novelty of being there when the attack occurred. Helicopters hovered overhead and lifeguard boats zoomed through the water. A man asked his daughters to pose for a “Shark Bite 2014” picture.
But before long, people became antsy to get back into the water.
Robin Taylor, who was in town from Palm Springs, said she felt bad for her niece and nephew, who had traveled from Tempe, Ariz.
“From the desert to the ocean and you can't get in,” she said, shrugging.
About 2:30 p.m., officials reopened the pier and surrounding beach area.
Great white shark sightings are on the rise at some Southern California beaches, especially in the waters off Manhattan Beach, a popular spot for surfers and paddleboarders.
Last month, local photographer Bo Bridges used a drone to film a great white shark swimming close to paddleboarders in Manhattan Beach. He spotted the shark about 100 feet off the coast while he and his friends were paddleboarding.
In December, a paddleboarder shot video of three great whites between 8 and 10 feet long, circling underneath his board. Evidence of other close encounters has been posted to YouTube recently, showing the glistening predators moving around in the waters near the shore.
Many of the sharks are juveniles learning to feed and fend for themselves, said Chris Lowe, a marine biology professor at Cal State Long Beach. Researchers are still trying to figure out why Manhattan Beach is so popular for the predators.
Beachgoers sometimes paddle out and record the predators circling in the water underneath their boards. Wildlife officials have asked them to be more careful. Sharks will attack if they feel threatened, and the oblong silhouette of a paddleboarder or surfer can be mistaken for the sharks' primary prey, sea lions.
There have been 13 shark-attack fatalities in California waters since 1950.
The most recent came in October 2012, when a great white about 15 feet in length attacked Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. as he was surfing off a beach in Santa Barbara County. Solorio, 39, suffered a massive torso wound and died shortly after he was brought ashore.
In 2010, 19-year-old Lucas Ransom was pulled into the water by what experts believe was a great white shark as he body boarded on Surf Beach in Santa Barbara County. His leg was torn off, and the UC Santa Barbara student died from his injuries before reaching shore.
In 2008, Dave Martin, a 66-year-old triathlete, was swimming off Solana Beach near San Diego when he was attacked and killed by what experts said was a great white shark at least 12 feet in length.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times