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!”
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.”