The red triangle, an area stretching along the California coast from Monterey to Bodega Bay, is a notorious feeding ground for great white sharks. For more than a decade, 67-year-old retired sea urchin diver Ron Elliott has frequented these waters, filming and simply observing these great creatures.
Elliott, known by locals as “the shark man,” dives alone, with no cage. He estimates he’s had more than 400 shark encounters. Those encounters became the focal point of a short film that played Thursday at the Half Moon Bay Library.
Josh Berry is a film producer from Point Reyes who has known Elliott for a long time.
“I’ve just known him as ‘the shark guy’ … and then he started showing me footage that he films underwater of sharks,” said Berry. “It’s incredible footage. It’s like nothing else out there. Top quality, incredible shark footage with some of the biggest sharks in the world, and he’s the only person doing it.”
At first, Elliott didn’t do much with the footage he captured. He just liked to dive with the sharks.
He shared some of it with researchers, but, for the most part, the films had not been viewed.
“I just wanted to tell his story and share that footage.” said Berry.
Berry and Elliott got to work on a film called “Near Miss” that incorporates footage Elliott had captured of great whites near the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes and Año Nuevo.
Two years after the start of the project, “Near Miss” premiered at the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, Colo., in October 2018. Since then it has screened at some other film festivals and private screenings before coming to Half Moon Bay.
The film presents extraordinary footage of great whites in their natural habitat. Elliott has spent decades coexisting with these immense animals, observing them in their territory.
Berry accompanied Elliott to the Farallones on his boat twice during the filming of “Near Miss.”
“It’s just this remote, foggy, mysterious place where you’re at the mercy of the weather and the wilderness,” said Berry “It’s a different world out there. It’s harsh, it’s difficult, it’s very remote, but it’s beautiful. It’s such a magical place.”
Elliott does all the underwater filming himself, even filming himself diving using an air hose with a camera on it that follows and films him from behind. He captured shocking footage of a shark suddenly appearing behind him and at the last second veering off, ramming him in the back of the head but otherwise not harming him. “It wasn’t an attack, it was just letting me know it was there,” narrates Elliott in the film. “That got my attention and taught me a lesson. I’m not indestructible.” Before the premiere of the film, this footage was leaked and went viral with a fake story attached to it. That inspired Berry to finish the film and get out “the real story behind the fake news.”
Elliott describes his love for diving in the film. “I dive by myself,” he says. “I like it. It’s quiet.” In October, after the completion of the film, Elliott had a collision with a great white resulting in an injury to his hand. Elliott spoke of the accident in a question-and-answer session after the film screening.
He joked that he hadn’t seen any sharks yet that day so he moved to another location and seven seconds down, in a new dive spot, he was hit.
“Not really what I was asking for,” he said with a laugh.
Elliott lives in the moment. He trusts that if he acts in a natural way around the sharks, he will be OK. While he is in the water, he is present, not thinking about anything else. He confesses that he still gets scared but that it makes him feel alive.
“I get scared, but I just have to jump,” said Elliott. “If something happens, you’re not scared, you just react.”