Video: Shark selfies trending as California great whites become celebrities

For the first 30 minutes, Joseph Trucksess didn’t want to stand up.

His knees were shaky, his heart pounding as he tried to balance his stand-up paddleboard in the water off Sunset Beach.

What if he fell off and one of the juvenile great white sharks circling around him decided he wasn’t invited to the party?

As word spreads about the resident sharks – about 10 have been hanging around just where the water breaks for the past few months – curious beachgoers like Trucksess are heading to the area to get a first-hand look.

The San Clemente paddler, along with friend Courtney Hemerick of Aliso Viejo, traveled to Sunset Beach Friday morning with a mission: to see the great whites up close and get a few selfies with their new sharp-toothed friends.

“I’ve always been into water and into wild animals,” said Trucksess, who noted that he began to relax after hanging out with the sharks for a while. “My perception of sharks has been so distorted by Jaws and other movies, it was cool to see how peaceful and non-aggressive they are.”

Experts say the sharks are here to feed on the large number of sting rays living near the shoreline. They are young sharks, eat only smaller creatures and are not out to hurt humans, experts say.

But lifeguards warn that they are wild animals, and people should use caution around them. They have not closed the water to beachgoers, but signs are posted on the sand with warnings about the sharks.

Trucksess said the sharks he saw ranged from 4 to 5 feet long, to the largest at about 7 feet, measured roughly next to his 12-foot paddleboard.

He and Hemerick spent nearly three hours in the water. When they got out, they saw at least 30 people on the sand watching the sharks.

It may sound corny, he said, but his infatuation with the creatures has grown as Shark Week approaches on July 5.

“It was cool to be in their territory, on their turf,” Trucksess said.

Surfside resident Jodie Nelson grew up surfing the area. As a former pro surfer and avid stand-up paddler, she’s spent plenty of time in the water and has seen her share of wildlife – everything from dophins to massive whales. But never a great white shark.

“I’ve been infatuated and obsessed and terrified of great whites since I was 12,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to see one in the wild, I just never imagined it would be in my front yard, where I surf every day.”

Nelson said she won’t go shortboarding in the area – the thought of her legs dangling in the water isn’t appealing – but has taken her stand-up paddle out several times in recent weeks.

She’s taken GoPro cameras to get close images of the sharks, and took a drone out about a week ago as her son Taylor hit the water, counting nine near him.

“It was like PCH on a crowded summer, one was going north, another going south,” she said.

The largest shark she’s seen is a 10-footer, which she nicknamed Deuces because it has two tags attached near its dorsal fin. California State University Long Beach Shark Research lab biologists and students have tagged several of the sharks in recent weeks to find out more about their habits.

Although they don’t seem aggressive, the sharks also don’t seem afraid of humans, Nelson said.

“They will come right up to you,” she said. “They aren’t out to kill people, they aren’t these rogue animals.

“They’re wild animals, that’s their house and we just play in it.”

For the most part, Nelson said she has felt safe on the water’s surface with the sharks cruising around. She gets nervous on the days the water is murky, the waves are a bit bigger and she can’t see them around her – but knows they are there.

Although it’s been cool to get up close to the creatures, Nelson said she hopes they move further offshore, especially as they start to get bigger. She’s been having to trek down to Newport and Lowers to catch waves.

“It’s been interesting and I’ve been fortunate to be able to have this experience,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m ready for them to move along.”

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