Reunion Island restaurant owner blames shark attack victim for a downturn in biz.
You probably heard there was another shark attack at Reunion on Saturday.
Bodyboarder Laurent Chardard paddled out at Boucan Canot, a netted beach, two days before his twenty-second birthday. There were red flags on the beach because a two-metre hole had been detected in the seven-hundred-metre net earlier that day.
Still, it was the safest place on the island, and the waves were pumping. Reunion has plenty of serious risk-takers, but Laurent is not one of them. There were already about fifteen people in the water. Laurent joined them.
The set of the day rolled in. Some locals think the shark swam in over the net, others believe it cruised through the tiny hole. Either way, it grabbed Laurent’s right arm. He punched it with his left. His reaction didn’t save his arm, but the shark did retreat. Laurent got back on his board. The shark returned, and this time took part of his right leg.
Some other surfers came to Laurent’s aid. According to Laurent’s friend Camille, who I spoke to by phone last night, he told them, “Just let me die, I don’t want to live like this.” This is the kind of instruction none of us ever wants to hear. They saved him anyway.
Laurent is made of tough stuff. Eight years ago, his dad went hiking, and returned with what seemed like a flu. It wasn’t. It was leptospirosis, and Laurent’s dad died within a week.
Around the same time, Laurent was diagnosed with diabetes. He shrugged both setbacks off with uncommon optimism. Camille says he has woken in hospital with similar determination.
“He wants to get better, and he wants to live again. He is thinking about where he is going to recover, and thinking about prosthetics. It’s so impressive. He’s mind-blowing.”
But that positivity is in contrast to the absurd drama that has followed the attack, which is the part of the story you may not have heard yet.
The owner of Le Petit Boucan, one of five restaurants on the beach at Boucan Canot, was interviewed on radio soon after the attack, blaming Laurent, who had defied red flags on the beach that day, for his restaurant now being deserted.
According to two people I spoke to, the restaurateur went to the local police station and said Laurent should be charged with an offence. The cops shrugged and told him to take Laurent to court.
A Facebook page was quickly established, calling for a boycott of Le Petit Boucan whose clientele consists mostly of surfers. Within days, 1000 people had signed up to it.
But even a boycott would not achieve anything, Camille says. “People will think we are just stupid, and want to break everything that is against us. But we just want to make Reunion better. So we are trying to make it right.” Nevertheless, she said, surfers were angry, and likely to boycott Le Petit Boucan anyway.
Jean Francois Nativel, who is one of the island’s leading anti-shark activists, said he was trying to act as a “mediator” with Le Petit Boucan. (I asked Nativel to put a couple of questions to the restaurateur, but haven’t had a reply yet.)
“Greenies’ responsibility is bigger than Laurent’s,” Nativel said.
Another Reunion resident, Laurence Joanblanq, a schoolteacher and mother to a couple of keen young surfers, told me via email that the restaurateur had simply been fooled by the media. “The media is always on the side of the scientists and animalists. This guy just follows what we can read after every shark attack – that surfers are guilty! All the time we are not the victims!”
She said the big scandal was that marine scientists had got the local court to ban drumlines near Boucan because it is a marine reserve. The beach was full of students on the day, she said.
“It was awful. It is hard for them. We thought it was okay (at Boucan Canot). Now we have had one attack inside the nets. Everybody is very sad. We have taken a step back.”
I find this almost incomprehensible. All this insanity, misanthrope, anguish and tragedy… over a stupid fish.
Here’s another thing about Laurent. About a year ago, he was swimming with some friends in a lake on the east of the island. There was a rock ledge above the lake from which other people were diving into the water. Laurent watched a man dive in. When the man failed to surface, Laurent dived in to search for him. Camille says he found the man eight metres underwater, and hauled him back to the surface. Laurent’s friend, a nurse, resuscitated him. The man survived.
Obviously, Laurent can’t do that any more.