Spooked

You understand that, as a surfer, you are sharing your favourite environment with all sorts of creatures. The majestic beauty of whales, the fluidity of the dolphin, jellyfish, fish, and other creatures all stir curiosity – and generally no fear.

Then there are sharks. Anyone who surfs, swims in the ocean, and even some of those who never do, have the innate fear of that man in the grey suit. Is it due to the 1974 Peter Brenchly novel Jaws and the subsequent 1975 Spielberg film that a whole generation gave into the terror of one of nature’s truly magnificent creatures?

Mick Fanning being attacked by one or two sharks at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, live on television and the internet worldwide, has served to once again spook surfers around our planet. Sure you may have a much bigger chance of crossing the road and getting killed, but even Kelly Slater is quoted as saying that every time he surfs, the thoughts of sharks are in the back of his mind.

Jeffreys Bay and South Africa are prime White Pointer territory, and everyone knows the risks. Mick’s bravery in punching the shark and getting away, let alone Julian Wilson’s amazing show of courage just paddling flat out to help him, is to be commended and a great example of human spirit and mateship. I am sure the experience will be with them for life.

After the recent attacks in the Byron / Lennox Head / Ballina areas, my usual yearning to surf the fairly uncrowded beaches in that area has been greatly diminished. My friend and former World Number 2 surfer Danny Wills will not surf the venue of the last attack, North Wall Ballina, and speaking to another colleague from Lennox Heads, North Wall is not attracting the crowds it once did. My surf buddy, Brow, no longer is ringing me to do the missions to surf there, and has told me that, like me, he is spooked. The odds are on our side, but for some reason the attacks are more frequent and the results are more horrific than they have been before.

Will this stop me surfing? No. Will I think twice about surfing some places I used to surf by myself? Yes. Have I noticed that every splash in the surf gets a little bit more attention from those in the water? Yes. Will less people take up surfing due to this fear? I think not.

In the end that fear is always in the back of your mind. It is their world, not ours, and we do know the possible risks we take when we choose to go into that world. Really it must be said that some places are worse than others, and yet we do not know exactly why. For myself, I am stoked that Mick Fanning escaped what I thought was his untimely demise as I watched live on TV. My scream woke up the rest of house, and the neighbours must have wondered what was going on at 11 o’clock at night.

Mick Fanning’s narrow escape does have every one asking: why so many attacks? For myself I think only more research into these magnificent creatures will give us the answer, and maybe a device that can protect those who venture into their domain. I have always been made nervous by the thought of sharks, but now it is just perhaps just a little bit more. Yep, I’m spooked.

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