Can This Surf Gear Prevent Shark Attacks?

An Australian team has tapped classic camo and a disguise tactic from World War I to keep today’s surfers safe.

It’s mid-Shark Week, and our collective post-Sharknado hangover is starting to pass. But it’s still summer, so there’s time for yet another toothy fish-themed bit of news: A company in Australia has developed a new line of products that could keep sharks away from surfers.


Sharks don’t actually crave humans, of course. It’s just that sometimes they’ll mistake the silhouette of a surfer for a seal, or see a flash of jewelry and consider it the glimmer of a school of fish. The common sensory thread here–and the key to putting some distance between Jaws and people–is vision.

Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS) protects swimmers by breaking up the visual cues that sharks use when they slip into predator mode. SAMS was started in 2011 by two Australian entrepreneurs, Hamish Jolly and Craig Anderson, who partnered with professors from the University of Western Australia to develop the designs for wetsuits and surfboards.

Their research was based on relatively new insight into how sharks see. One discovery, that sharks are color blind, informs the SAMS “Cryptic Swimmer” pattern. The blocks of blue weave together to mimic the movement of water–rendering the person wearing the suit invisible to the shark. It’s basic camouflage, the offshore version of a hunter’s branch-and-leaf pattern.

But where the Cryptic design provides cover, “Warning Swimmer” uses the opposite visual effect to keep sharks at bay. Here, contrasting black-and-white stripes break up a shark’s ability to engage and focus on prey. This print does a couple things: It potentially confuses the shark, or tricks it into seeing water snakes, and sharks don’t eat snakes. This tactic is more like the dazzle camouflage or painting of World War I, when naval ships used the geometric patterns to alter the enemy’s depth perception.

So far SAMS has been tested in live waters near Perth, where the company is based. Skeptics have been quick to suggest that the contrasting stripes may serve to attract, rather than deter, the predators, but the true test will happen on the water. It’s safe to assume, for now, that the only surefire way to avoid a shark attack is to avoid the ocean itself–advice any diehard surfer is sure to pass on.

SAMS has partnered with wetsuit company Radiator to produce the entire line of suits and surfboards. The suits will cost $495, and can be seen here.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.