Opinion: “Treat sharks like rats!”

Why are sharks exempt from our usual attitude towards animals?

Did you notice the spike of shark hits last week? Three attacks, one fatal. Kitesurfer killed in New Caledonia. Bodyboarder becomes a double-amputee in Reunion. A fifteen-foot white throws a surfer off his board in south-west WA while his brother screams in horror.

The noted writer and surfer Fred Pawle sure did.

It was like every single damn Christmas had come at once for Fred, who fearlessly, and unfashionably, has been banging the drum to treat sharks as we do other fish.

This morning, Fred wrote a piece for The Australian newspaper titled Indiscriminate killers aren’t deserving of our sympathy. 

Can you guess the angle? Let’s read!

Almost everywhere one looks — the CSIRO, universities and the various departments of primary industries or fishing — one sees a higher priority given to sharks than surfers, divers or swimmers. This misanthropism springs from the common perception that humans are a blight on our planet and that a few casualties from interactions with nature are an acceptable price in the quest to save the Earth from ­rapacious humans. Such a deliberate lack of ­humanity is usually assoc­iated only with religious ­delusions or witchcraft. But, then, you “believe” in “saving” the environment or you don’t. 

The longer this goes on, the more absurd our behaviour. In this respect, Reunion Island provides a worrying sign of where Australia is heading. ­Reunion introduced a marine park on the west side of the island in 2007 and implemented a ban on shark fishing. Since 2011, the effect of these policies has ­become apparent.

All this for … a fish. Why can’t we treat sharks like other fish, or cattle, or rats? Why are they ­exempt from our usual attitude towards animals? Why do we go to such pains to ensure these fish thrive at the cost of young lives?

The island has had 19 attacks in six years, seven of them fatal, from a population of 850,000. Most surfers on the ­island have known not just one but several friends who have been killed or badly injured. Most parents in the tight surfing community have ­attended the funeral of several friends’ children, if not their own.

And it was on Reunion where this week’s third attack occurred. This one encapsulates how neurotic the debate about sharks has become. A bodyboarder named Laurent Chardard arrived at Boucan Canot beach last Saturday to see, apart from large and good-quality surf, red flags on the sand.

Boucan has a 700m net around it, built last year. It is one of two netted beaches, the only places where it is considered safe to surf on an island that until recently was on every surfer’s bucket list of dream destinations. However, ­that morning inspectors had noticed a 2m hole in the net and erected the flags — not warning of a shark, just the potential of one.

Fifteen surfers paddled out anyway. Chardard was one of them. He was attacked by a bull shark and lost his right arm and leg. “Just let me die — I don’t want to live like this,” he told the brave fellow surfers who came to his rescue. 

The day after the attack, the owner of the Petit Boucan, one of five restaurants on the beach, went on radio to complain he’d had almost no customers since the attack and that Chardard should be charged with a criminal offence. He also floated the idea of suing Chardard for damages. In Australia it’s common to blame the victim of a shark attack but threatening to sue one takes this antagonism to a new level.

The restaurateur has since apologised — a smart move considering his clientele consists mostly of surfers, who angrily proposed a prolonged boycott. However, the restaurateur’s grievance is understandable. He has a business to run and bills to pay. His restaurant is at one of the few ­places on the island where it was presumably safe to swim or surf. Now that beach has been stigmatised.

Arriving at this negative outcome has not been cheap for Reunion. The net at Boucan cost about $1.5 million to build (but was still damaged by one of the first large swells to hit it), and about half that a year to maintain. The island’s tourism industry has been cut dramatically. And, of course, Chardard and his family and friends have paid a heavy price.

All this for … a fish. Why can’t we treat sharks like other fish, or cattle, or rats? Why are they ­exempt from our usual attitude towards animals? Why do we go to such pains to ensure these fish thrive at the cost of young lives?

The usual response to these questions is that sharks are an “apex predator” and that tampering with them has a “cascading” effect that would lead to the “collapse” of the marine environment.

But a landmark report published by the West Australian ­Department of Fisheries this year, the result of one of the most comprehensive studies into shark movement, disputes this. The report, bearing the catchy title of Evaluation of ­Passive Acoustic Telemetry ­Approaches for Monitoring Shark Hazards Off the Coast of Western Australia, says the movement of great whites is “highly variable” and “not consis­tent”. So a beach visited by a great white one day might not see ­another for a week, or a year, or a decade. Whether the shark ­returns or not, the environment adapts, just as Charles Darwin explained it would more than 150 years ago.

Besides, the marine environment is less predictable than ­researchers lead us to believe. One would expect, for example, that the protection of great whites in South Australia would keep the population of fur seals (also protected) under control, but it hasn’t. Instead, fur seals are reaching plague proportions and are devastating the state’s fishing industry.

These outcomes are not quite as tragically counter-productive as those on Reunion but we are getting close. As part of its highly publicised $16m plan to protect surfers on the state’s north coast, the NSW government included the construction of a net, similar to the one at Boucan, at North Wall, Ballina. Local surfers told the government the plan was ludicrous and the net would be in ­pieces on the beach after the first big swell. The government persevered anyway, abandoning the idea after three attempts.

Five days after that plan was dropped, the government ­released to The Daily Telegraph details of an exciting new plan to keep sharks away from people: dropping Shark Shields, which emit electric pulses that make sharks uncomfortable, on them from drones. If this sounds like another ridiculously complex, time-consuming, expensive and ineffective idea, it’s because it is.

Do you believe that sharks deserve to be elevated above other species? Or are you of a similar frame of mind to Fred Pawle?

(And read the complete story here, if you can get past the paywall.)

World Surf League mines comedy gold!

Who knew that Paul Speaker hid laughs in his breast pocket!

I clicked on a story titled World Surf League Tries Comedy in Ads Starring the Sport’s Offbeat Characters and got ready to die… from embarrassment! We all know, too well, that surfers can’t act and actors can’t surf. And that the World Surf League is officially a no fun zone. Etc.

I cringed. And clicked. And watched.

And laughed!

And chuckled!

And laughed again!

Oh sure some are funnier than others but the ones that shine really shine! Kolohe Andino has a classic deadpan’s timing and delivery. Dave Prodan (as pie eating ASP official) should leave his post immediately and take the bus to Hollywood. Pete Mel gives each of his performances the appropriate zing and the judges complaining about their sandwiches…only the hardest of hearts could not find joy in that thick Portuguese accent complaining about pickles.

AdWeek reports:

Unlike past WSL efforts that focused on the inherent drama and chaos of surfing, the new work casts the league’s athletes, announcers and executives in skits designed to appeal to both long-time fans and those just discovering the sport.

“The WSL felt like they were succeeding in showing the best competitive surfing in the world, but were missing out on some of the offbeat characters and unique fun that is at surfing’s core,” Zambezi senior art director Chris Rutkowski tells AdFreak.

In seven 30-second clips running on WSL broadcasts and the league’s social platforms, the league “stayed true to the laid-back image of surfers with honest, sometimes self-deprecating humor to make the surfing world as inviting as possible,” Rutkowski says.

But enough of that mumbo jumbo. You watch and share your opinion! Two thumbs up? Or no?

Event winner John John Florence, inside, and afro-Hawaiian stud Mason on outside of gorgeous Waimea bomb. | Photo: WSL

Rumour: Red Bull to steal The Eddie!

Red Bull meets with Hawaii's first family, the Aikaus, in bid for broadcast rights!

I know we’ve all got abbreviated memories, but you do remember The Quiksilver: In Memory Of Eddie Aikau. You’ll remember because it was seared into your brain.

Those broiling waves, the wipeouts that made you hold your breath as you watched on the rectangle of your laptop, the mob of jetskis all roaring towards the beach to escape a thirty-five-foot closeout set. John John Florence surprising nobody by winning.

Biggest Waimea for a contest ever? Yeah, it was.

I put it to the guy who invented the pro circuit, the Triple Crown, the Pipe Masters, and who famously said he’d go surf Waimea alone to prove it was surfable in 1974, Mr Fred Hemmings.

Fred is seventy now, a little stooped, but says, yeah, bigger, better. Calls it “an epic.” And says Clyde Aikau was the “real hero” of the event. “Sixty-six years old and he paddled out in the surf with twenty-year-old young men and he took off on a wave and… got his ass kicked. And he paddled back out.”

Beautiful, yeah?

Anyway let’s relive a little of the contest here. WSL did a helluva job of broadcasting the event, I thought. What kind of value could you put on an event like that? Millions?

Now, there’s a rumour floating around, a solid rumour, that Red Bull has been flying back and forth to Hawaii to meet with the Aikau family in an attempt to secure media rights to next year’s Eddie.

Red Bull doesn’t want naming rights, necessarily, although cans of the company’s popular stimulant soda would, naturally, be suddenly apparent in broadcasts, but want to turn The Eddie into “a proper show.” Like this year’s Cape Fear event. 

And if Red Bull, who famously fell out with the WSL over co-sponsorship rights, gets the event, it’s likely it’ll become a non-WSL event. Which means, no John John, no Kelly etc.

Of course, if you listen to someone like Fred Hemmings, events like this year’s Eddie only come along, what, once every forty years.

Would broadcast rights, therefore, become a poisoned chalice?

Too much money for too little zing?

"We're all just in shock," says Kelly Slater. "I loved this man. Can't believe we won't be seeing you as expected at every event. I can hardly remember an event without you. Always in everyone's corner on tour...it's really difficult to believe you're gone. Rest in peace, my friend and our thoughts go out to your children." | Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms/Surfing Photo Union Worker

Head of WSL security dead of suicide

Can we speak of the unspeakable?

Anyone who has been around more than one professional surf event (either ASP or WSL) would have seen Woody. He was the head of security and looked it with shorn head and severe goatee. Unlike most security guards, though, he was quick to laugh. He seemed to know he was in on the joke. That surfing was “professional” and needed “security.”

This morning he was found dead in his San Clemente hotel room.

Stab has already posted a thoughtful and sensitive piece but bury a key element in the URL and Kelly’s Instagram post without really touching it themselves.

The likely cause of death was suicide.

And why is it so impossibly hard for us to get our heads around suicide? To even say or write the word?


We brush it away, into the URL or onto someone else’s shoulders as quickly as we can. It is a poison. A horrible, unspeakable blank.

Jamie Tworkowski, a surfer and best-selling author from Florida has spent his life dirtying his hands in these freezing cold, uncomfortable waters.

I met him a lifetime ago in his hometown. He started and runs the foundation To Write Love on Her Arms which deals directly and head on with suicide. With its stigma and with letting the light in, the air in, so maybe, just maybe, other suicides won’t happen. Read all about him and TWLOHA here. He is a champion.

And so I call him for more. Because how do we talk about it? How do we look it in the eye? How do we not brush suicide away anymore?

His voice is warm.

Look, these folks who knew him, who loved him are hurting. It hurts beyond anything. But how do we talk about it? How do we talk about suicide? Well, the leading cause of suicide is untreated depression. Can we talk about that? Can we talk about our problems? Problems that we all have and carry with us every day? We are not really allowed to go there but that’s where we need to go. We have to go to the headwaters and really deal with the issues.

Woody’s death is super hard news, it’s super painful but there’s still a way to honor him. He lived, he had a family, he impacted so many people. The way he died doesn’t take away from any of that and I’m not interested in speculating on the causes of his death. None of that goes away because of how he died.

But what do we need for the living? For the people struggling under depression or the burden of problems they think are too great to escape?

You are not alone. There are great resources and I talk with people every single day who are alive even through the struggle.

There is hope.

There is hope.

If you need a little kick today go here.

And God bless you Woody. Thanks for letting me get right in the middle of Damien Hobgood vs. Dingo Morrison leash pull incident freak out at Pipeline’s showers without shoving me aside. It was a thing of beauty.

leash pull?… from thegoods:CJ and Damien Hobgood on Vimeo.

Revealed: Nixon spied on Surfer Magazine!

A blood feud that beats 'em all!

William Finnegan’s much-lauded Barbarian Days has, of course, taken the literary world by storm. President Barack Obama put it at the very top of his summer reading list, it won the Pulitzer Prize, every bestseller list many times over, etc. etc.

One of the greatest side benefits of all its success, though and in my opinion, is an increase in quality writing about surf. Bill made it ok to take it seriously! And there is a story in today’s New York Times that fascinates!

Richard M. Nixon, noted dickhead and asshole and paranoid creep, actually spied on Surfer magazine founder John Severson! Let’s read about it!

Southern California surf culture is rich with such tales from this period. Growing up in San Diego in the ’80s, I heard stories of Marines confiscating (and even destroying) the boards of surfers sneaking onto the beaches of Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base just south of the Nixon house. A famous Ron Stoner photograph from the ’60s shows a Marine M.P. wearing a sidearm, storming off the beach with a single-fin shortboard.

Severson soon found himself in hot water over a series of photographs he took of Nixon in La Casa Pacifica that he sold to Life magazine in 1969. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Life photos prompted Nixon to build a six-foot wall around his property. It wasn’t long before the Secret Service took a hard look at the Severson abode. Severson and his friends were convinced it had been bugged. “They knew everything that was going on at that house,” Steve Pezman, who ran Surfer magazine for two decades after Severson, recalls. ”Nixon knew what he had for dinner, how it came out and what he said to his wife in bed.”

At the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif., I recently found a 1969 letter from Severson to Nixon, apologizing for the photos. “I’d like very much to speak with you for a few minutes,” Severson went on, “regarding the surfing, public beach and access problem that faces us in Southern California. Unfortunately, your summer home has intensified the problem, but I believe a solution can be reached without jeopardizing your security.”

In his memoir, Severson recalls that he was invited over to La Casa Pacifica to negotiate a truce with the White House counsel John Ehrlichman. “He was one tough cookie,” Severson said. “I tough-cookied him right back.”

The story is delicious, detailing Nixon’s hatred of the damned long-haired surfers surfing in front of his San Clemente home, rubbing his nose in their loose morals and looser morals. Read the rest here!

It makes me sad that surfing is no longer counter-culture in a way. That our industry’s own thin-skinned paranoia has rendered any external eye-twitching unnecessary.