Shark encounters force team to cancel relay swim - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Shark encounters force team to cancel relay swim

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - A team of swimmers attempting a 76-mile relay swim from Catalina Island to La Jolla Cove in support of wounded veterans abandoned the swim after multiple shark encounters, organizers said Monday.

The group of eight swimmers, three kayakers and a support boat left the city of Avalon on Catalina Island about 4:10 p.m. Friday and planned to arrive at La Jolla Cove sometime this morning, group organizer Will Miller said.

But the group abandoned the swim for precautionary reasons Saturday after swimming 44 miles because of multiple encounters with sharks, Miller said.

“The first sharks we saw were just frolicking in the area and swimming around our boat and curious,” said Mark Zambon.

He is a Marine veteran and a double-amputee injured during a 2011 tour and made the swim. He saw the sharks getting too close.

One shark with a reported 18-inch dorsal fin followed about 20 feet behind a swimmer at one point and the group spotted a total of eight sharks nearby. They were about 20 miles offshore from Camp Pendleton when they decided to stop.

“Even 5 to 7 yards before Dave Speier [swimmer], the shark dipped down and we were only thinking going on a strike mode and Dave was able to hop on the kayak and on the boat in time to be safe,” said Zambon.

"After 44 miles, safety takes precedent over ego and wanting to finish," Miller said. "At night it was pitch black, and our concern was we would never see the shark at night until it was too late."

The group swam a ceremonial final leg from the La Jolla pier to La Jolla Cove about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

"Exposing ourselves to that risk again would be border on recklessness and that's not what we are all about,” said Zambon.

The team called the swim "Beyond Avalon" and was swimming to raise awareness and benefit the San Diego-based nonprofit group Warrior Foundation Freedom Station, which helps wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are currently receiving medical care at Camp Pendleton and Naval Medical Center San Diego.

"It doesn't matter if you're in favor of the military or not," Miller told City News Service. "We've all benefited from what these wounded soldiers and their families have sacrificed."

That swim ended Saturday afternoon, by Saturday night another team of 14-year-old girls from San Diego was swimming 21-miles across the Catalina Channel. Their mothers had heard of the sharks citing but didn't want to frighten the girls.

“I was glad she told us after obviously,” said Kendall Christensen.

The Catalina Dream Team 14 in 14 was focused on taking the title as the youngest all-girl team to swim the Catalina Channel and they did it in the quickest time 8 minutes and 11 seconds.

“I have to say that sharks were the last thing on my mind during the swim,” said Maddie Necochea.

What was on her mind and her five teammates was beating the world record and being in the top ten best times for the 21-mile swim in the Catalina Channel.

“I just thought about what we were trying to do and what it would feel like if we finished and we did finish and it felt great,” said Taylor Christensen.

The girls were raising money for the swim and also money for the club Heartland Swim Association.

One of the co-founders of the "Beyond Avalon" team, Will Miller said he chose the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station as his charity of choice because it is a volunteer-run organization that helps all branches of the military.

"I'm not a fund-raiser, I'm a guy who works and swims," Miller said. "But Warrior Foundation Freedom Station is such a great cause."

Miller, an attorney from Poway, said the "Beyond Avalon" swim was a grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds that would help injured veterans like Mark Zambon, a retired Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician who lost multiple fingers and both legs while on tour in Afghanistan, and Dana Selles, a Navy pilot who suffered a broken back in Afghanistan. Both Zambon and Selles were members of the "Beyond Avalon" team attempting to complete the swim.

"For every person like Mark and Dana, there are thousands of others experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and whatever else who we can never repay," Miller said.

Nobody on board the support boat was able to tell what kind of sharks were in the water, but Miller said the support boat's captain and commercial fishing boat captains said the most common sharks in that area are the great white and the mako.

The team swam with an electromagnetic device designed to repel sharks for part of the swim but decided it was too dangerous to continue even with the device, which needed to be recharged every few hours.

"You have to respect the power of the sea and the power of the creatures in the sea," Miller said.

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