Apryl Boyle was sitting on her surfboard waiting for a wave when a shark suddenly appeared in front of her.

Instead of freaking out, or paddling quickly toward shore, Boyle was excited to be so close to one of her favorite sea creatures.

“I was stoked. Look how cute,” she recalls thinking while at El Porto surf break in Manhattan Beach in 2013, when she saw the juvenile white shark. “I sat there and moved my hands around the water.”

As a marine scientist, she knew she was in the shark’s blind spot because sharks can’t see directly in front or behind. When it did realize it was so close to the surfer, the shark scurried off.

“It was not happy to see me,” she said. “They are afraid of us.”

For many people, fear of sharks is what drives their curiosity about the species, Boyle said. And that’s exactly the reason she is launching Eco/Shark Tours by El Porto Shark out of Redondo Beach in August — to help educate people about sharp-tooth predators.

Protecting sharks

Boyle, of West Los Angeles, grew up in Venice and Ventura, an under-served child who bounced between relatives — finding solace when she was in and around the sea.

“I’ve been into the ocean as long as I can remember,” she said.

Boyle graduated from the University of Tampa with a double major in chemistry and marine science and completed her master’s degree at the Medical University of South Carolina, interning for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a stint. She was at first fascinated with turtles and other marine mammals before turning her passion toward sharks.

“I realized there was so much misinformation, and how many sharks we are killing,” she said. “Everyone wants to save the sweet furry animals and dolphins. When I realized we are really killing the environment by killing sharks, I knew I had to do something.”

Boyle said 100 million sharks die by humans each year — from by-catch, finning and culling. That equates to roughly 11,000 per hour.

“They are dinosaurs that have survived five or six mass extinctions and they may not survive humans,” she said, noting they have been around for 400 million years.

Boyle worked in public policy and for a number of nonprofit and marine science agencies, while for a day job crunched numbers doing analytics and strategy for companies outside the ocean world.

During those warm-water El Niño years that drew young sharks to the shoreline, starting in 2013, Boyle started El Porto Shark, mostly as an awareness campaign. She had stickers and T-shirts printed with a logo for the group, and created a social media page that grew a following.

Television crews flocked to the El Porto parking lot, waiting for sound bites from scared surfers who suddenly had sharks out in the line-up.

“News was trying to scare everyone,” Boyle said. “The reason I started El Porto Shark was being fed up with the sensationalism.”

Before long, she turned El Porto Shark into a nonprofit aimed at dispelling myths about the mysterious creatures.

Even shark science groups blow it, she argues, when they refer to bumps from curious sharks as “attacks.” More sharks means a healthier ocean — and it’s the sharks that need protection from humans, she said.

“They are four or five feet, they are not going to bother humans,” she said of juvenile sharks. “Stop protecting humans from sharks, and start protecting sharks from humans.”

What’s fact and what’s fiction?

Boyle’s main goal: Replace fear with facts.

That’s her mission, whether talking to kids during classes she teaches at Waterfront Education in Redondo Beach and other schools, or leading shark and eco tours that get people close up to the various species off the coast.

“One of the things people like to do is get on the water and see what marine scientists do, and see some cool wildlife, perhaps even some sharks,” she said.

On a boat excursion off the South Bay she held two years ago for students and adults, they saw a big mola mola, sea lions and a mako shark that came up next to the boat.

“It was really cool. I stuck my GoPro underneath and it came to the surface and (the mako) was trying to get one of the fish the students had caught,” she said. “They were stoked, they loved it.”

For the upcoming shark tour charters — Aug. 12 and Aug. 30 — she’s teaming up with Redondo Beach Sportsfishing’s Betty G boat. The group will not only try to see sharks, but will do sampling, water surveys and lab work.

She’s also getting a group together to travel to the island of Tobago, to learn about more docile species of sharks, a trip geared toward beginning divers,  snorkelers, or simply shark and ocean conservation enthusiasts.

The 1975 movie “Jaws” added to the fear of sharks, she notes, and to the justification for destroying them. Since then, she said, the public fear has grown.

“We will teach the public how important shark conservation is to the oceans, our planet, and our very way of life,” reads one of her class presentations. “We will change the narrative.”

Boyle said she hopes through encounters with sharks, people will in turn find a way to protect them.

“It’s the fear of the unknown that really gets people,” she said.

Find out more

Price for the shark and eco tours off Redondo Beach are $195 per person, $185 each when booking two or more people for a tour. Space is limited to 10 people per tour; private charters can be set up for groups of more than 10. Space is also open for Apryl Boyle’s trip to Tobago. For information, email: shark@elportoshark.com.

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