Ray Montana was on his way Saturday to visit his family in Oceanside when he felt drawn to the spot here where a 66-year-old triathlete was killed a day earlier by a marauding shark.
“I know the pain his family must be feeling,” said Montana, 20, a marketing major at San Diego State, as he laid a small bouquet of palm leaves at an impromptu memorial near the lifeguard station.
There is something about a violent death at the beach, Montana and others said, that seems so tragic, so wrong -- particularly when the victim represented the local ideal of fitness and athleticism.
Dave Martin, a retired veterinarian, had lived in Solana Beach since 1970. He trained hard in the swimming-biking-running regimen and remained fit, lean and tanned.
He was swimming about 150 yards offshore early Friday when he was bitten by what is believed to have been a great white shark. Pulled from the water by fellow swimmers, he died within minutes from massive bleeding from gashes on both thighs.
On Saturday, many beachgoers said they were still in shock over his death.
“The beach is a place of helping, of renewal, where people come to feel better about themselves, not of death,” said seascape artist Linda List, 45, as she walked barefoot in the wet sand a few dozen yards from where Martin was pronounced dead.
A note attached to one of the memorial bouquets said simply, “You were the kindest, most compassionate man I have ever known.” Many of the bouquets were from strangers.
For the most part, the public obeyed an advisory posted along an eight-mile stretch from Torrey Pines to South Carlsbad to stay out of the water. Crowds were thinner than expected. At midday, few swimmers were in the water.
Martin’s death and the possibility of other sharks lurking offshore dominated conversations in the beach/surf hangouts along U.S. 101: Naked Cafe in Solana Beach, Pannikin coffee shop in Leucadia and the famed Pipes in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
“It was fate; it was just Dave’s time,” said David Hilliard, 24, a ocal artist, surfer and computer technician.
A friend offered a novel take: “A bear kills a guy at Big Bear, a shark kills a guy at Solana Beach, both in the same week,” said Glen Forest, 45, a carpenter. “There’s a strange vibe out there.”
Ray “Riptide” Barrios, a triathlete from Sherman Oaks who was bicycling with a friend, said he called his mother to assure her that he would be careful in the water.
“I told her if it ever happens to me, if I died swimming in the ocean, she should know that I died doing what I love,” he said.
Barrios was with Holly Scheidler, a member of the same training club as Martin. She plans to get back in the water as soon as the advisory is lifted Monday morning.
“Your chance of getting hurt in the ocean is a lot less than getting hurt on the road,” she said. “Ocean swimming -- there’s nothing like it. A pool is just a cement box.”
Shark experts believe Martin was attacked by a great white 12 to 17 feet long. The shark may have mistaken the dark silhouette in the water for a seal, its favored prey.
There were surfers Saturday who would not be discouraged. Several dozen paddled out at Swami’s, the well-known break north of Solana Beach.
Back at Solana Beach, Eric and Sarah Fish were helping their 19-month-old daughter Gabriella dig in the sand.
“He’d like to go in the water,” Sarah said of her husband, “but I won’t let him. Better safe than sorry.”
Eric Fish, 35, a construction manager, said he’d stay dry until the advisory was lifted but nothing would keep him out of the water for long.
He remembers the days when a popular bumper sticker in beach-centric San Diego County said simply: “There’s no life east of Interstate 5.”