shark attack ballina
This is what a great white bite looks like. Leg belongs to Cooper Allen, a 17-year-old surfer from Ballina, on Australia's far north coast, who was hit by a 10-foot white last year. Locals call this a "Ballina hickey."

When Great Whites Take Over Your Beach

What happens when your sleepy lil town becomes a global hotspot for Great White attacks?

The day before Tadashi Nakahara was killed by a shark, I was surfing at the same location. It was late afternoon, the waves were small and the wind onshore.

Suddenly, I saw a school of large fish in the face of a wave. I pushed through the wave and sat up on my board, marvelling at what I had just seen. They were good-sized fish. I sat there for a little while and then it occurred to me that something might have been chasing them.

So, I turned to go in, but it was too shallow to paddle across the reef, so I started paddling around the reef to where I could access the beach. Then I noticed some turbulence about four metres in front of me. I paddled straight to shore and exited the water about five metres from where Tadashi died the next day.

A couple of months after the attack, I made an appointment with Ballina Council to ask what I should do after seeing a shark. Three times I had sat in my car wondering how long I should hang around in case anyone arrived ready to paddle out where a shark had just been seen.

I was told that electronic notice boards were being considered, even though Council was not actually responsible for what happens in the ocean. I don’t know what happened to that idea, but two years after the meeting, we still don’t have a reliable system in place.

Then Matthew Lee was attacked at Lighthouse Beach. I was surfing with a couple of guys at the north end when one of them paddled over to me saying that it looked like something was happening at the other end of the beach. I had heard a siren, but figured it was headed somewhere else, since everyone at the lookout was just staring out to sea like normal. They had obviously not noticed the commotion at the other end of the beach.

I ran down the beach to see what had happened, but was told tersely to go away. I can’t blame them for being blunt. They were dealing with a horrific injury. I guess I was only trying to digest what was happening. But, nobody had called us out of the water and a few guys were still surfing further north.

Ironically, news of the attack spread rapidly around the world. Journalists descended on Ballina and the mayor had to deal with what seemed like a real-life episode of Jaws. I already knew that bureaucracy was preoccupied with its own preservation. So, I set up a Facebook page called Ballina Shark Reports, which grew rapidly to 6,000 likes, half of them from the local area. Our local parliamentarian mentioned the page in state parliament, suggesting it was an indication of concern felt by the community. But the service itself was not supported by the government, despite numerous attempts by me to get the various authorities involved.

After five weeks and 35 shark reports, I deactivated the page because I was not sure if the service could be relied upon throughout the longer days of summer. Even with a few committed volunteers, it was difficult to monitor every daylight hour. Some people thought the page was bad for tourism. So I was also afraid I might be blamed if any businesses happened to fail, as they often do in a small town anyway. I was disappointed because I knew how much people valued the service. Within minutes of a report coming in, I could see the post being shared across the community. I don’t know how many of these people were surfers, but the number of middle-aged women using the page suggested that a lot of mothers were worried about their sons spending time in the ocean.

I gradually got back into surfing and tried to avoid the topic, especially on my way to the beach. But, you would feel sick every time you heard an ambulance. Then, Sam Morgan was attacked while surfing at Lighthouse Beach – the third attack that year, all within a kilometre of the rivermouth.

It was really difficult to keep surfing after so many attacks, but there were so many waves going unridden. People also tended to surf in groups, so even if it got semi-crowded at one location, the next beach was usually empty. You would feel courageous just paddling to the next peak. Another bonus was the abundant sea life. One day, a whale ploughed through a set as we duck-dived right beside it. Sometimes you get a fright when a dolphin suddenly pops up next to you or a stingray glides underneath. It is awesome to feel connected with nature. But I don’t like being part of the food chain.

Then Cooper Allen was attacked. I was standing in waist deep water, about five metres away, when I saw a shark in the face of a wave between me and three guys sitting further out. A few seconds later, I heard a shout, followed by the nose of a board sailing through the air. I thought the board had been snapped in half, but the back end was just hidden behind the wave.

As I paddled toward Cooper, I saw his mates, Tom and Jae paddle toward him. It makes me smile every time I think about that moment. Two young guys trying to protect their mate. How many times must that have happened in human history?

I jumped over the wave and looked over to where the attack happened, half expecting to see a dismembered body. What I saw was Cooper swimming backwards, away from the shark, which I then realised had swum away with the tail of the board in its mouth. The shark stopped about five metres from Cooper and was thrashing with the board still in its mouth, shuddering vertically in the water. As I paddled toward Cooper, I saw his mates, Tom and Jae paddle toward him. It makes me smile every time I think about that moment. Two young guys trying to protect their mate. How many times must that have happened in human history?

Once again, the media circus begins and as I see Tom and Jae being devoured by Channel Seven, I realise that I have to speak for them. When interviewed by The Australian, I made my position clear. I honestly couldn’t care less if these creatures went extinct. Just because they play a role in the ecosystem doesn’t mean that role can’t be played by other species of shark. At least two peer-reviewed academic papers make that case.

But the scientific community is too beholden to environmental ideals to share that information with the public, even when asked to make submissions to a Senate Inquiry debating the matter.

In my submission, I propose that the government withdraw from the debate by allowing interested parties to bid on the fate of dangerous sharks. If people want to protect sharks, they should demonstrate their commitment by spending their own money and not relying on taxpayers. Likewise, if surfers want to enjoy the ocean without the risk of shark attack, they should also pay up. Both sides of the debate should put their money where their mouth is. I can’t see any other way of settling the dispute.

Either you value humans or you value sharks. The middleground is an illusion.

The first hearing was held in Sydney, where a cancellation gave me the opportunity to address the committee. The mood was respectable, if a little self-congratulatory, with headstrong environmentalists speaking for the planet. I knew I was speaking for a section of the community, many of whom were reluctant to voice their concerns, for fear of copping abuse for not wanting to sacrifice their children to Gaia.

So, I focused on the issue of protecting children from predators.

It is a simple idea, but also symbolic of how we have lost our way as a culture. I am hoping that the silent majority teaches the Greens a lesson, because I think they have made a serious blunder on this issue.

It is a perfect example of why society must not give in to vocal minorities.

(Editor’s note: this story first appeared on Dan’s fabulous blog. Click here.

Faux/Real: The baggy wetsuit!

Is it ok to wear full-sized neoprene?

Seven days ago we launched a new series called Faux/Real™ which examines fashion achievements (real) and fashion blunders (faux) in the water and on the beach. First up was surfing in a speedo and it received a resounding REAL. We should, all of us, surf in a speedo.

Now let us turn our attention to the baggy wetsuit which has been a staple of beach life since neoprene surf warmers were invented by Jack O’Neill back in 1952. You’ve seen plenty and maybe wondered, “Am I buying my wetsuits too small? Is the skin-tightness restricting my movements?”

Well, the answer is a resounding FAUX. Surfing in baggy neoprene is akin to using a king-sized fitted sheet on your full-sized bed. It just just ain’t right in any context!

The baggy wetsuit surfer says, “I don’t know nothing about surfing and I also don’t know about keeping warm. I like being cold, rashes and looking like shit.”

Don’t be the baggy wetsuit surfer. There is just no season for it and there never will be*.

*Unless you are a Muslim woman and are in desperate need of a burkini.

Slater’s nemesis: “People are threatening my life!”

Furious response to former pro's criticism of Slater's surfboards… 

Has it really been a week since Kelly Slater put an old Cocoa Beach pal to the sword for saying unkind things about his surfboards?

A brief recap.

Kelly wrote a nice post on Instagram asking his two million followers if they’d ever felt the greatness of other surfers within them as they surfed an iconic wave, in this case Jeffreys Bay. Curren flow, Terry Fitz speed lines and so on.

Followers wrote delightful things in response, such as, you should write a book, Kelly, perfect description, this is how every surfer feels about you etc.

One surfer who wasn’t as elevated was the Florida surfer and Lost team rider Sean Volland, an old acquaintance of Kelly’s. Sean said he “truly hoped” Kelly would win the contest but doubted it was possible because of what he regarded as Kelly’s poor equipment.

An argument ensued.

(Read here.)

Well the story went off like a whistling gale. Party hats were blown off. Plump little men went to war in the commentary section.

And, there, amid it all was Sean Volland, a very good surfer and coach from Cocoa Beach.

Yesterday, I was at home petting my two cavoodles and eating ham I’d pulled from a blisterpack using little toothpicks, when Matt Biolos sent me an SMS from Florida asking if I wanted to talk to “Slater’s nemesis.”

I called and the phone was handed over to Sean, who is forty eight years old, three years older than Kelly. I wore headphones and was precise in my transcription of the phone call which was just as well because Mr Volland would threaten me, shortly after, with the rape of one of my cavoodles, and my own cuckolding

In the muddled call, where Sean’s thoughts shot all over the place, I learned:

“I’ve been threatened by people from every seven points of the globe. I just think that he sucks on his boards.”

His boards look like shit. He couldn’t win in eight-foot conditions. He couldn’t beat John John, Filipe, Frederick, that’s just the way I feel. Maybe he’ll regroup. I didn’t curse him. I’ve been dealing with internet cursing, people are hating me, threatening my life.

“Slater wet my bed. A bunch of the best surfers, him and his brother Sean, used to hang out at my house. I grew up on acres. Kelly was eight years old.”

“I don’t want be vilified anymore. I’m cursed  in my home town.”

“I went to kindergarten with his older brother Sean. We were on the same super team (Shags, Dick Catri). Then we all split ways in our late teens. Kelly went with Kechle and Quiksilver; I went with Spectrum and Billabong.”

“I haven’t spoken to him in probably twelve years. I think I saw him at the gas station. I see his brothers Stephen and Sean on a regular basis. Cocoa Beach is a small town. We all piss on each other.”

“I never though it would blow up like this. I didn’t want my fifteen seconds of internet fame. I didn’t think it would viral. I was just telling someone I knew from a long time ago that he might want to change his game.”

“I mean, in this town, no one can give a rat’s arse about Kelly Slater. He doesn’t get followed around by security and it is what it is. I said what I said. I don’t want to start an internet fight.”

“It caused a shit ton of problems. I still believe what I said was right. His boards look like shit. He couldn’t win in eight-foot conditions. He couldn’t beat John John, Filipe, Frederick, that’s just the way I feel. Maybe he’ll regroup. I didn’t curse him. I’ve been dealing with internet cursing, people are hating me, threatening my life. I don’t have voodoo dolls. I don’t stick pin in voodoo dolls. I’m not a black magic  guru.”

Blood bond: Slater + Johnson!

A friendship that we can learn from!

Did you enjoy BeachGrit‘s drama yesterday or did it turn your stomach? Did you chuckle at every turn, every lurch, or think very poorly about how this ship is steered? I think Col. Sean Volland, one-time Florida pro, thinks very poorly. Remember him? He drove Kelly Slater into an Instagram rage by criticizing his surfboards. And underneath yesterday’s story Rory Parker: Why I quit! he wrote, “Are yall here to rape corpses or provide an alternative to news!! In my short appearance on Beachgrit, I find that yall throw bitches under the bus, let people hang themselves, then run with the noose to pad y’alls ego; The rest be damned!!!”

Not a glowing review by any means. Are Derek and I really corpse rapers? Alternative news barkers? Running around with nooses to pad our egos?

A damning thought. But speaking about Kelly Slater, he seems to be a good and permanent friend. No throwing bitches under a bus or letting people hang themselves. There is a new feature in Rolling Stone documenting a surf trip to the Marshall Islands Kelly and his long time friend and famous musician Jack Johnson recently took. It is a beautiful story about a beautiful relationship and photographed beautifully by the incomparable Todd Glaser. Let’s read a little!

“Kelly and I met when we were teenagers,” Johnson says. “He was a couple years older than me. We all knew about Kelly before we met him because it became pretty evident that he’d become the next world champion. He just had a way about him when he surfed with the things he could do on the waves and the way he carried himself. We just met through friends in common and we just became better and better friends. We started playing guitar at the same time. The guy who taught me to play, one of my dad’s best friends, taught Kelly and I chords right around the same time.”

“I became very close with Jack’s family,” Slater says. “We used to laugh about it because when he was away at college in the mid Nineties, I was staying in his room with his parents. They were upstairs and I was downstairs in Jack’s room for a number of different winters.”

And doesn’t this sort of lasting friendship just soothe your soul? The perfect antidote to corpse raping and noose running?

Thank you Rolling Stone! And thank you Kelly and Jack.

Should Derek and I put our corpses and nooses away and pick up guitars instead?

Justice! Loyalty! Courage! Three elements in very short supply at BeachGrit.

Rory Parker: “Why I quit!”

Derek mealy-mouthed! Chas "unpleasant!"

(The following appeared as a comment on a previous BeachGrit post from Rory Parker)

Sweet jesus, I just want to put this shit behind me (and hopefully cash in if Derek and Chas manage to make this thing work.) But because Derek was kind enough to make sure I was aware of this piece…

I agreed to write a number of articles for BG in exchange for a small piece of the company. After I’d passed that point Derek and Chas were not willing to begin paying me, nor give me more equity. Furthermore, Chas wanted to use BG to promote a bunch ‘grit’ spin-offs and felt that it was terribly unfair when I expected to be included.

In the beginning there were lots of kind words about being ‘partners’ and a ‘team,’ but when push came to shove they made it clear they’d always considered me an independent contractor.

I should’ve quit then, but I let Derek talk me into hanging around with a bunch of vague promises. Because I truly enjoyed writing for BG. It was fun.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

If I’m being totally honest, a few kind words would have been enough to keep me around. But that was too much to ask for.

Chas loves to play up the fact that he’s an unpleasant person. And he truly is. Rather than being a partner in the site I loved I found myself working, for free, for someone I can’t stand.

So I quit.