This was first written back in 2002, ideas for consideration have been added over the years. I have heard of about a dozen attacks on kiteboarders since 2000 worldwide including one fatal attack in March 2010 in Florida. The frequency of such reported attacks appears to be quite low. We are still learning about shark attacks and interactions with kiteboarders. As such there are few absolutes of means of avoiding problems. Approaches recommended for other activities have been adopted with some additions in consideration of our sport.
A widely accepted list of precautions appears at: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/Attacks/relariskreduce.htm
The rules that I generally tried to follow to reduce the odds of negative shark interactions over a very long time of diving follow with some additions. They have been adapted to kiteboarding and may or may not help avoid problems with sharks.
1. Avoid making periodic noise or splashing. Dying or struggling fish emit a characteristic acoustic signature that has been documented to attract sharks for a very long time. It is interesting that a poorly performed (lots of splashing); Australian crawl stroke emulates this signature. So that flashy, splashy stroke that serves so well in the pool can be a dinner bell in the ocean. In the ocean keep your swimming cool, quiet and smooth.
Of course kiteboards toss an incredible amount of spray and no doubt generate tremendous noise underwater. For what ever reason, aside from inducing occasional curiosity, kiteboarding in my experience to date anyway, doesn't seem to unduly attract sharks in MY AREA. I am really not sure why the noise and spray of kiteboarding doesn't attract sharks either. This may not apply in other areas.
2. Avoid schools of bait fish, seasonal migrations of bait fish and particularly bait fish that are disturbed. That is baits that are periodically flying out of the water because something larger and hungry is chasing them. I ignored this one of the times I was intercepted and checked out by an 8 ft. curious shark. Whoops! This extends to other signs of feeding, clusters of sea birds on over over the water, disturbed surface, predatory fish jumping out of the water, weed lines, dead fish or animals in the water and other signs of related activity.
Avoid congregations of sharks including migrations. Sharks may often be solitary but at times they gather into a common area for mating, birthing and related migrations. Migrations may be attended by larger, often more aggressive sharks like tigers, bulls and hammerheads in small but significant numbers. Also, video from kites and reported observations from low flying aircraft indicate that sharks may turn with kiters and chase them. Attacks rarely happen but all the same, playing cat and mouse with sharks, likely without your immediate knowledge doesn't sound like a great idea. Our first kiteboarder fatality occurred during a shark migration in Florida in March 2010. He may have been struck by a larger, predatory shark escorting the smaller spinner sharks in the migration. His femoral artery was severed in the hit and run attack.
3. Don't go near fishing piers or down current of fishing boats and particularly fishermen that are chumming (tossing fish parts into the water). The fish fluids can be sensed by sharks over great distance due to the electro-chemical reaction with seawater and the highly sensitive sensory receptors along the side of the shark's body. They tend to follow these sensory trails upstream to their origin. One of Paul Menta's more notable shark encounters was close to a fishing pier in an area frequented by sharks in NW Florida many years ago. So he was in the neighborhood, splashing and his board leash looked tasty so lets have a bite on it?! Another reason not to use board leashes! Avoiding riding near inlets may also help to reduce the chances of a shark encounter.
4. Unless you want to see sharks, underwater preferably, don't go out where sharks have recently been seen, that day? Sharks are generally elusive creatures in the more populous areas of Florida. It is rare to encounter a shark on the surface or see one inside the limits of visibility underwater. I generally assume that sharks are always within sensory range, say under 1/4 mi. or closer but they generally remain invisible. If you talk to airplane pilots in the area they will back this up with frequent sightings of sharks near bathers while flying overhead. In order to see sharks they generally need to change their behavior. So if that sharks are in a public mood, chasing baits or trolling on the surface it would be good to go somewhere else. Jumping sharks frequent the area of two other kiteboarder attacks on the east coast of Florida. Spinner sharks have major annual migrations along the southeast Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They were named for their tendency to jump and spin out of the water.
5. Avoid wearing jewelry (i.e. lures) and bright contrasting colors. Apparently the bright contrasting colors can aid the sharks poor eyesight. I have heard about the "don't look like a seal" argument for almost 40 yrs. We don't have seals in my area not to say the sharks don't have racial memory of it so I am on the fence on this one. The jewelry thing is an absolute in my book and particularly to avoid barracuda attacks. Barracudas are as common as mosquitoes in my area and can hit anything small that moves and catches their eye. When I was a little kid I used to throw seashells to drop in front of the to watch them strike the shells.
The eyesight of sharks is weak and surpassed by several other far more effective senses in sharks. Interestingly enough they cover their eyes with a membrane just before attacking further impairing this questionable sense in turbid, often dark water.
6. Prime feeding time appears to be around sunset and sunrise. Shark attack on humans may be not directly related to feeding however. Sharks prefer fish, apparently are not fond of the taste of humans. Still, they may strike if startled, say if you wipe out near them, in defense of territory, etc.. If sharks are in a feeding behavior or mode, sudden stimulation caused by a kiter in the water or wiping out may prompt an attack.
7. In the case of kiteboarding, I would advise avoid staying in the water for extended periods if this is possible. A rider underway can easily be hit as has happened in a few cases but I suspect that a stationary target that has drawn the interest of a shark may be more vulnerable. Falling near sharks has likely resulted in attacks more than once on kiteboarders. Kiting alone may increase the odds of attack as well as potentially impair the speed of rescue if needed.
8. Lastly if a shark comes up on you and you are underway, I would advise leaving the area on your board at best possible speed. I would land and think over continuing to ride that day. If you are in the water and a shark comes up, try to water start and get out of dodge if you can. If you can't move away, something other kiteboarders have successfully done is to respond with aggression against the shark. Some shark psychologists feel that aggression is outside of the experience and racial memory of most sharks and they often decide to go to easier pastures. I don't believe in shark psychologists but it sounds worth trying to me in any case. If the shark appears to leave the area, body drag, swim or water start and leave the area at best possible speed. If you are in the water don't splash and keep looking around you to verify that the shark doesn't come back.
So in summary, sharks, are they out there? Yes. Do they generally make a serious problem of themselves or even become visible, no. If they are visible or known to be close by your risk of a negative encounter increase. Follow good common sense procedures, some are tossed out above and have fun. I would not dwell on the subject of sharks but be ready to try to deal with the situation if it arises. Anytime you are in the water you could have a negative encounter with a shark but fortunately they are quite rare. The above comments are derived from a long time diving in Florida and the Caribbean. Florida leads the world by far in shark attacks, generally on bathers. We don't hold a candle though to the more serious incidents that occur in South Africa, Australia or Northern California. Slightly different experiences and precautions could apply to California, South Africa, Australia, etc.