Opinion: “We are ghoulish, we do crave blood!”

Why can't we just admit it?

What an absolute fine little mess the Australian leg ended in. The best of times or the worst of times? Too early to tell but if you are in audience growth mode the media coverage has been, as they say, total and global.

Problem is, of course,  saturation media coverage for calling off the comp due to unacceptable risk of shark attack doesn’t gel too well with the WA Government’s stated reason to back the event.

From this year’s breathless presser released by the Tourism Minister Paul Papalia: Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to watch the 2018 Margaret River Pro at the world-class facilities at Surfers Point, and millions of viewers via global broadcasts, showcasing the stunning region to the world. 

Y’got the showcase all right, Pauly. A stoner from Denmark showcased what a direct strike from a White looks like and didn’t even break a sweat. You can bet that played well on Frank Gallagher’s big screen in Manchester*, “Oi, fook that WA shite luv, fookin sharks eatin’ people on the fookin’ beach, lets go back to Lanzarote”

You can’t blame Sophie for  swerving first in a game of international chicken with the world’s most ferocious click-bait generator. Maybe she knew, maybe she was told: there was no good outcome. No acceptable optics. No happy ending.

Pauly didn’t sound so chuffed this morning after the cancellation especially after he moved heaven and earth to tow the whale off the beach and bring in the heavy reinforcements in the form of a 20-metre fisheries vessel from the Abrolhos Islands (a 12-hour steam away, with a pretty fuel bill) to back up the WSL, as well as provide back up staff and constant aerial surveillance. He was pretty keen to let it be known it wasn’t the State Government who blinked. 

But you can’t blame Sophie for  swerving first in a game of international chicken with the world’s most ferocious click-bait generator. She heroically avoided corpo-speak in the statement announcing the cancellation and maybe she knew, maybe she was told: there was no good outcome. No acceptable optics. No happy ending.

The forecast was dire. A frothing pack of international media would have seen Margs set up like the Battle of the Coral Sea – helicopters, vessels circling, skis everywhere – each journalist praying in her blackest heart of hearts that the unthinkable might happen in real time on live broadcast.

What a story that would be. It would likely, as Gabe Medina said today, “Finish the sport”.  Sophie would have to fall on her sword immediately, KP too. Probably the whole management team gone. 

Nope. She had to bomb the village to save it.

Margs is gone. But it was probably gone already. Oh, they’ll honour the contract for next year, sans Medina who has already said he is never coming back, sans Italo too and probably a sizeable part of the Brazilian contingent, which is half the CT. It won’t be a good look, trying to promote tourism in the region when half the surfers on tour refuse to show and the dream of using pro surfing as a locomotive to pull the wagon of tourism promotion will be gone for good.

Only question is whether the contagion will spread to the other Australian events. Bells is solid, Snapper looks shaky.

“The Margaret River Pro will not only deliver significant national and international media coverage of the State throughout the global broadcast, it will also inject millions into the economy by attracting visitors to the State.”  Phhhoooooooooo. Ashes in the wind now.  Foxy liberal shadow minister for Tourism Libby Mettam said, “The damage of today’s cancellation to our economy and reputation will take years to rebuild”.

She called the cancellation of the event a “disaster for WA Tourism”. Not even Joe Turpel could spin fairy floss out of that lump of turd, although I would love to see him give it the old college try.

Terrible irony is, we are ghoulish, we do crave blood and the thought of wild animals tearing us apart thrills like no other concept. Why can’t we just admit it, to borrow the chorus of Tool’s Vicarious. We won’t give pause until the blood is flowing. That would give pro surfing the audience it craves. There’s already proof of concept. It would take a very, very brave CEO to move in that direction though and now Sophie has blinked once and put surfer safety as a non-negotiable it’s going to make backing Pro Surfing at any shark hot-spot a very risky commercial decision. What suits call “sovereign risk” will now weigh on the sport. 

We’re halfway down the rabbit hole to Sophie’s beloved “wave systems” future and mother nature is kicking us up the arse to get there quicker. Maybe that is what has felt so strange about this Aussie leg: it’s like the future is huffing and puffing to blow the house down and everyone, surfers, judges fans seem caught in a kind of future shock.

Don’t it feel weird?

We’re halfway down the rabbit hole to Sophie’s beloved “wave systems” future and mother nature is kicking us up the arse to get there quicker. Maybe that is what has felt so strange about this Aussie leg: it’s like the future is huffing and puffing to blow the house down and everyone, surfers, judges fans seem caught in a kind of future shock. No one seems to know what to do. Kelly Slater said the contest should have gone on but he himself described a moment of existential panic when he first spied his wave pool dishing up perfect waves: “In some weird sense this is like a nuclear bomb, is this something we shouldn’t have?” He has created the conditions where a viable alternative to the ocean now exists, where an unthinkable option to turn away from the ocean like the WSL took today is feasible and even makes a kind of strategic sense. 

I was going to offer some analysis of the Aus leg as a whole but it seems pointless. Italo was the form surfer and he wears the yellow jersey, so there is that. John has been mugged by reality and is caught in a world of weird that no-one in Team Florence would have anticipated in their worst nightmares. The rest seem like a bag of marbles flung across the floor. All you can say is that where they are now is not where they will be at the end of the year.

You could say the same thing about Pro Surfing. 

* According to a WA Tourism fact sheet visitors from UK make up the largest contingent of OS visitors and they love bronzing the rig at the beach and are petrified of sharks (pers obs).


From the WSL: "Current circumstances are very unusual and troubling, and we have decided that the elevated risk during this season’s Margaret River Pro has crossed the threshold for what is acceptable."

Breaking: Margaret River Pro cancelled!

See y'later WA and thanks for the laughs… 

Well, how about that?

After yesterday’s twin Great White attacks, and with beaches still closed around Margaret River, the WSL has cancelled the Margaret River Pro.

“The WSL has made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the Margaret River Pro, as a result of exceptional circumstances surrounding this season’s event regarding sharks and the safety of our surfers. This decision has been reached after many hours of consultation with a variety of stakeholders and experts.

“The WSL puts the highest premium on safety. This cannot be just talk, and it cannot be compromised. Surfing is a sport that carries various forms of risk, and is unique in that wild animals inhabit our performance environment. Sharks are an occasional reality of WSL competitions, and of surfing in general. Everyone associated with our sport knows that. There have been incidents in the past – and it’s possible that there will be incidents in the future – which did not (and will not) result in the cancellation of an event. However, current circumstances are very unusual and troubling, and we have decided that the elevated risk during this season’s Margaret River Pro has crossed the threshold for what is acceptable.”

In a press release from the company’s CEO Sophie Goldschmidt:

On April 16th (local time), two separate shark attacks occurred at nearby Gracetown – approximately 6 kilometers away from the primary event site at Main Break. The presence of beached whales in the area has attracted sharks and contributed to the aggression of their behavior, which, experts agree, has increased the possibility of further attacks. These findings have resulted in nearby locations being closed to surfing and swimming.

We are committed to being as prepared as possible for what nature throws at us. The WSL maintains strong and constantly-improving safety, monitoring and support infrastructure and protocols, and we would normally have a high degree of confidence in our ability to protect our athletes. However, the threshold has been crossed for the organization and if we decided to continue the event under the current circumstances, and something terrible were to take place, we would never forgive ourselves.

We are painfully aware that this decision will have commercial ramifications for the local community, and will disappoint some of our partners, fans and athletes. We sincerely regret that.

Our competitive structure allows for points distribution in the event of a cancellation. However, we are not giving up yet on somehow completing both men’s and women’s competition this year, and will communicate our thoughts on that when we know more.

Margaret River is a special venue, with incredible partners. It has produced many memorable moments over the years, and at the moment we have no plans not to return in the future.

We appreciate that not everyone will agree with this decision, but hope that they will respect it. Athlete safety will always be our absolute priority and we thank the local community, our partners and our surfers for supporting the decision.

Thank you for your understanding,
Sophie Goldschmidt
WSL CEO

As for points, an event re-run etc.

“The cancellation of the Margaret River Pro will see points distributed per the WSL rulebook, but organizers have not ruled out potentially completing the events elsewhere during the season.”


shark attack
"He's gone!" Western Australian Jason Longgrass, 41, hit by Great White at Lefthanders, near North Point.

Watch: Footage of yesterday’s Great White attack!

"Oh my god! Holy fuck! He's gone!"

Ever wondered what it would look like if a pal was hit by a Great White? Well, here’s a little poem of the sea – just-released phone footage of yesterday’s second Great White attack near Margaret River.

It isn’t entirely pleasant viewing, although the surfer, Jason Longgrass’s survival, lack of substantial wounds and excellent post-attack interview do lighten the mood.

“Shark! Oh my god… holy fuck!… he’s gone…” says one spectator before, “No he’s swimming, he’s swimming, come on mate chopper’s coming back. Chopper’s coming back.”

Watch here!


Pretty animals, pilot whales…  | Photo: Gian De Poloni/ABC News

RIP: Dead Whale Removed From Lefthanders!

Dead pilot whale towed off the site of yesterday's (second) Great White attack… 

The holy trinity of contest crowds, the year’s annual salmon run and dead whales littered everywhere sure did create a vibrant environment for sharks around Margaret River. Two hits on surfers by Great Whites in one day, neither fatal.

There was a little chatter, yesterday, about why the State’s Department of Fisheries hadn’t removed that damn wounded pilot whale which had swam through the Lefties lineup, beached itself and died. I pointed out that Lefties ain’t the easiest joint to get to and putting a boat close enough to shore to attach ropes to the dead leviathan wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Well, they did it. Whale gone. Towed off the beach, taken to Gracetown (where, in between North and South Points there’s a boat ramp) loaded onto a trucked and disappeared. Not surprisingly, two Tiger sharks (remember those?) and a Great White followed the boat back around the corner, and past the seal colony, and into Cowaramup Bay.

Beaches remain closed until six pm, local time, although the closure might be extended.

  • A Regulation 44 closure notice remains in place for the Gracetown area between North Point and Ellensbrook. This means beaches and waters up to two kilometres out to sea cannot be used by divers, surfers and swimmers. In addition, Fisheries has advised additional caution between Kilcarnup and North Point. 

Now, here’s a question.

If you…knew… how many ten-foot-plus Great Whites were around, whether in WA or maybe around your neck o’ the woods, would you accept the odds and still surf?

Go to the Shark Smart website, jump into the shark activity part, and check out what’s been seen or detected in the last week.

Oh, it’s anything but seductive.

A ten-foot White thirty-feet off the beach at Injidup (remember those Cyclone Marcus rights? Yeah, there.) An eight-footer at Gas Bay.

Etc.

And etc.

The WSL will meet at eight am today, local time, to determine whether or not anymore saliva will be sucked out of the event or, as per the wishes of Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, they’ll beat a very quick retreat. 


Italo, thrilled to be in Margaret River's thriving ecosystem.

Gabriel Medina: “I don’t feel safe in this kind of place!”

Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina thrilled to be in Margaret River's thriving ecosystem.

Yesterday’s two hits on surfers by Great Whites a click or so from the contest there sure did sour Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira’s Margaret River experience.

Gabriel told his six million followers on Instagram, “Today they had two shark attacks on a beach close to where we’re competing. I do not feel safe training and competing in this kind of place, anytime anything can happen to one of us. Hope not. Leaving my opinion before it’s too late!”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhopCWPF1EC/?hl=en&taken-by=gabrielmedina

Italo, who is the current equal world number one and Bells winner, helpfully posted one of those shark sighting maps. It ain’t for the squeamish.

“Two shark attacks in less than 24 hours here in Australia, detail, just a few miles from where the event is being held,” wrote Italo. “Very dangerous do you not think? even so, they keep insisting on doing steps where the risk of having this type of accident is 90%, so I ask: is not the safety of athletes a priority? We already had several alerts. Life goes beyond that! I hope it does not happen to any of us. I do not feel comfortable training and competing in places like this!”

Are Italo and Gabriel right? Should the tour pack up its bunting and Joe and the gang and leave?

How do the locals feel about it? Are the two attacks really unprecedented? Is it unsafe to dive into those azure waters and bask in the poem of the sea?

Jay Davies, who is thirty-one years old and has lived in Yallingup all of his life and who two weeks ago was being lit up by eight-foot shorebreak tubes (“I saw fifty sharks that day, the water must’ve been stirred up”), says that “big sharks are sighted every day. It’s not different, just a bit of a bummer two guys got a little bit chomped yesterday. But, you know, it’s salmon season. There’s a lot of fish running around and there’s definitely big sharks feeding around ’em. It’s sketchy, but it’s the natural thing around here.”

The timing of the WSL event, says Jay, is a little odd, howevs. “It’s pretty funny the WSL puts the contest on in this time frame and then they freak out that there’s all this activity. Everyone thinks it happens all-year long but salmon season plays a big part of it.”

Jay says there’s definitely more sharks around than when he was a kid (“We weren’t hearing about thousands of sharks being sighted every day”) although it hasn’t changed his behaviour.

“It was in the back of my mind yesterday, I was surfing with one other person not too far from the stretch where people got attacked, but I didn’t let it phase me.”

A lot of the WSL guys come here and fucking hammer Cobblestones all day long so I actually can’t believe it’s the first attack there. JAY DAVIES

That said, he ain’t in a hurry to surf Cobblestones again.

“There’s that one little stretch with five different breaks and the last three fatal attacks have all been in that area. There’s a seal colony at the end of South Point, about six hundred metres from Umbies and Cobblestones, so you’re really dancing with danger. A lot of the WSL guys come here and fucking hammer Cobblestones all day long so I actually can’t believe it’s the first attack there. I don’t surf there much. I get really spooked. It’s really deep water and it feels like a bit of a shark highway. The wave is fun, it gives you a great ramp and it has a lot of power, but you’re usually trying to find someone to surf with. Jack Robbo is always trying to find someone else to hit the ramps with him.”

The former pro surfer turned real estate agent, Mitch Thorson, is philosophical about the threat, however real, of attack.

“That’s our deal. Not a day goes by without a story about how someone was surfing somewhere and a mini-sub cruised by. But you either give up surfing or you go surfing and know they’re out there. That’s our deal. That’s our reality.”