And for centuries, they have haunted the popular imagination as bloodthirsty man-eaters.
Now, they can add another line to their résumé — photobomber extraordinaire.
On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 22, freelance photographer Jordan Anast aimed his camera at professional surfer Tyler Warren while working the San Onofre Surfing Club contest in California. As he photographed Warren, a great white shark shot out of the ocean, clearing the water entirely. The shark made a split-second appearance in the background before crashing back into the sea.
Anast, who’s been covering sports events in Southern California for more than 20 years, got the shot — a neat juxtaposition of man and beast, side by side, both going about their very different purposes, seemingly unaware of each other.
The photo struck a nerve. Anast said the attention he’s getting because of it has been nonstop over the past week and a half.
“It’s insane,” he said.
Both Anast and Warren got to work at San Onofre State Beach around 10 that morning, specifically at the break known as “Old Man’s.” Anast started taking pictures. Of surfers prepping their boards and going out into the water, riding waves, mugging with fellow competitors, hanging out with their children. Of spectators sitting on the beach, taking it all in.
Then, at 11:02 a.m., while photographing a surfer he would later identify as Warren, Anast saw something out of the corner of his eye. At first, he thought it was a really big dolphin, which wouldn’t have been unusual. In his years of photographing surf competitions, Anast has captured plenty of dolphins — by themselves, jumping over surfers, knocking them off their boards.
“Everything,” he said. But, he added, “I never got a shark.”
Only when Anast looked at the screen of his Canon EOS R5 did he realize what he’d captured — the arc of a great white coming out of the ocean, peaking in the air and then crashing back into the water. In the foreground, Warren was riding a wave.
“I was just amazed,” Anast said.
Warren, who’s been surfing professionally for 14 years and making surfboards for more than two decades, said he didn’t know about the shark. He was catching his second or third wave of the round and was about halfway through the ride when he heard people cheering from the beach. Although they were louder than normal, he didn’t think much of it. He was on the clock — the round was 15 minutes — so he focused on catching another good wave. Only after the heat had ended and he’d come to shore did a woman approach him. Eyes wide, she told Warren that a photographer had been taking pictures of him.
“You wouldn’t believe the photo,” he remembered her saying. Then, she described the shot: “You’re surfing, and there’s a huge shark jumping behind you.”
Warren tracked down Anast and, sure enough, that’s exactly what it was.
Undeterred by his brush with a great white, even if only on the two-dimensional space of a photograph, Warren’s already back in the water. Clashes with sharks are rare, he said, even at San Onofre where they’ve coexisted with beachgoers for decades.
Instead, Warren said he focuses on catching a good wave.
“I usually don’t really think about sharks because you can just freak yourself out,” he said.
Anast and Warren said they’re taken aback by their newfound fame. After the image was beamed to screens thousands of miles away, Warren heard from people across the country. His brother reached out after seeing him on the news in Florida. His sister did the same from Texas. His uncle, Arizona. When he goes out to catch waves, surfers and other beachgoers barrage him with questions and comments about “that shark photo.”
“It’s gotten to the point where it just feels over the top. Every person I see that I know and don’t know, they bring it up,” he said, although he acknowledged that he recognizes the photo is something he’ll probably look back on in a decade or two with not only amazement, but appreciation.
“It’s definitely a one-in-a-million shot,” Warren said.
Actually, Anast said, he’s archived 2.5 million photos in his decades-long career, and he’s only got one with a surfer being photobombed by a great white shark. He suspects it’s the only one he’ll ever get — that anyone will ever get.
“I just don’t see it happening.”