Photos: Courtsey of Cassmere Polaski Collection
You know when you’re in the line up, sitting on your board and the water is a kind of a murky green or brown color. All of a sudden you get a weird feeling like something is swimming underneath you. Most of us just try to ignore that feeling, but what if you didn’t suspect a thing!
Someone that I have known since I was a young boy, named Cassmere Polaski, had just that kind of unsuspecting situation happen to him. Cassmere is a 57-year-old surfer, paddle boarder, and local San Luis Obispo County legend from Cayucos, California. He was born in 1955 in Cook County, Illinois. At age three his family moved to Manhattan Beach, California, where he started surfing at age seven. As a grom, he looked up to a local Malibu surfer, surfing Icon and classical guitar player named Kemp Aaberg, who inspired Cassmere to play the guitar forty-one years ago and they still play together to this day.
In 1969, Cassmere moved to Oahu, Hawaii, where he would live with family friends during the winter. In the summer, he would go back to the mainland to see his family.
He remembers surfing with legends such as Butch Van Artsdalen, Jose Angel, and Peter Cole. After he graduated from high school in 1974 in Hawaii, he moved to San Luis Obispo where he found work as a lifeguard at Avila Beach, Cayucos Pier, and Lopez Lake. To be a good lifeguard, a person needs certain skills, such as swimming and paddle boarding. Cassmere took the life guarding aspect of paddle boarding to a whole other level on the Central Coast that no one had ever done before. He would paddle twenty miles on a regular basis. Sometimes he and a friend would be a couple of miles off shore cruising through shark infested waters.
In July of 1982, he was attacked by a fifty to twenty-foot Great White shark. He and a friend Terry had been paddling from Montana De Oro state park to Avila Beach, one of the most shark-infested stretches on the entire Central Coast. As they paddled, they would sing songs to keep a timed pace while stroking across the water. Halfway to Avila, Cassmere was suddenly launched into the air like a CATAPULT! When he hit the water the first thing that came to mind was that a whale had accidentally knocked him off his board. Cassmere then looked around only to see Terry, who thought Cassmere was dead, paddling quickly to shore. Then he turned around to see a huge shark carrying his board around like a cigar. As it swam towards him, he tried to hide behind the board, so the shark wouldn’t see him. He then realized that he couldn’t swim in and splash water because that would only attract the huge beast to come after him again. What he did do was grab the tail end of the board. As soon as he grabbed the board, the shark lifted and he started to slide down into the jaws of the shark! Just as he was about to fall into the open mouth of the jagged toothed Great White , he hit it with his left fist only to realize that the beast had no idea it had been hit. Suddenly, it let go of the board and swam back under water. As Cassmere climbed back onto his board to wait for another return attack, he remembered the big black eyes and how they starred right through his soul. Dinner was being served and Cassmere was the main course.
Thankfully, the shark never returned and left Cassmere on an impatient struggle to reach the beach. Cassmere looked towards the shore and saw Terry paddling way out in front and almost to the beach, neither one of them were about to stop paddling for anything.
Terry got to the shore first and watched as Cassmere paddled to the safety of the sand. Cassmere remembers the feeling of relief as checked to see if he had any injuries or body parts missing. Terry came running up the beach towards Cassmere and hugged him, “I thought you were dead,” he screeched! But Cassmere was alive and well… except for the fact that he had just been in a fight with a Great White Shark!
The attack brought mass media attention. Cassmere appeared in many newspapers and magazines. He was even interviewed by the TV show 20/20.
30 years later, He is still in the water surfing and paddling. The amazing part is that these days he is paddling alone and still doing long distances. The man is fearless, but very modest. I believe there is very few people who could grasp what he went through, let alone go back in the water the way did with such extreme mental stability and the confidence to be on the ocean alone.
Sometimes I still see Cassmere walking up the beach at the Cayucos Pier with his paddle board after the sun has gone down and it’s dark out. I’ll ask where he just paddled from this time, and with a calm confidence and no fear in the world, he’ll tell me, “oh, I just went to Morro Rock,” and I tremble a little knowing that those waters are full of the types of beasts that almost killed him nearly thirty years ago!