Reunion Island shark attack Update: Surfer’s anti-shark device broken!

Waves pumping, pretty empty, your anti-shark device is busted. What would you do?

A little quiz. You’re a screwfoot. What would you risk to surf empty-ish, six-foot warm-water lefts?

The French surfer, Kim Mahbouli, who died yesterday when he was hit by a bull shark, ignored dirty water and a mostly empty lineup to surf perfect St Leu, a wave that used to be a blue-ribbon stop on the pro tour.

Reports that his three pals were wearing shark repellants are yet to be confirmed, but I can report Mahbouli’s own device was out of action, a not uncommon occurrence according to the local I spoke to.

The most commonly used devices on Reunion are the RPELA from Western Australia, which is integrated into your board and costs around five hundred bucks, and NoShark, which y’strap to your ankle, also around five cees.

Both of ’em work by sending out electricity to fuck with the shark’s electro-receptors.

Mahbouli went to school in Reunion, was a shredder and, like a lot of us, couldn’t see past the dreamy funnels hitting St Leu’s famous bowl.

Photo of Kim Mahbouli by Steph Peyriguer
Photo of Kim Mahbouli by Steph Peyriguer

“I was angry against Kim,” said the local I spoke to. “The water was murky and you don’t go in the afternoon. Why? I wouldn’t go and nor would most of my friends.

“But, when you are young you push your limits and at St Leu nobody’s in the water so you have the great session of your life. I can understand. I surfed two weeks ago in the morning, the water wasn’t very clear and I didn’t have a shark device. The waves are beautiful and you stay.

“But it’s a big price to pay.”

In a story, Requiem for Kim, on island’s primary news website, Clicanoo, Philippe Le Clarie wrote, in part:

It’s like a bad dream. A broken board and a body under a white sheet. A friend, a son, a surf buddy torn out of life because he went surfing.

There it was at Saint-Leu. Kim Mabhouli knew the spot. He knew that the ocean had been banned temporarily – a beautiful oxymoron – for years.

But how to banish the sea when you live on an island. As well forbid to drink in the middle of the desert. Water is life. In Reunion, for so long already, water is death.

When the whole world sings the wedding of the man and the ocean, in Reunion, we count the dead, the unemployed, the tourists, one by one, on the deserted beaches.

And in the middle of all this there is suffering.


Paris surfer Kim Mahbouli, killed on Reunion Island. | Photo: Imaz Press

(Another) Surfer killed by shark on Reunion Island! 24th attack in eight years!

Usual story, bull shark, hits leg, surfer dies etc on that godforsaken island…

Is a man-eaten-by-shark-on-Reunion-Island story news anymore? Yesterday, a surfer from Paris, Kim Mahbouli, went surfing, got hit, lost a leg, died.

The attack was the twenty-fourth in eight years and the eleventh fatal. In January, a fisherman died when a bull shark hit his leg.

Yeah, Mahbouli, who was twenty eight, was surfing in one of those banned areas ’cause the French way of solving an imbalance of bull sharks in the local ecosystem is to just stop people going in it. 

And, yeah, his pals apparently had shark repellant devices strapped to their ankles (Modom leashes?).

But what are you going to do?

There’s waves and the odds of getting hit by a shark, as we keep hearing, are about the same as visitation from curious aliens or a meteor strike.

Tourists getting their legs bitten off and subsequently dying on the beach has ruined tourism on that Indian Ocean-Franco paradise. Y’ain’t seen anything like this Creole version of Tahiti, with its volcano and reef passes and exceptional boulangeries.

And the people! Some dark, some light, most possessing some beguiling physical characterstic, blue eyes popping out of choco skin, for instance.

But ever since a marine sanctuary was created in 2007, the bull sharks have taken hold of the ocean.

“There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers.” Jeremy Flores.

A few years ago, I interviewed Jez Flores, who grew up there, about it.

“From generation to generation there were always fishermen and then people from overseas, environmentalists, came and they stopped fishing in a 10-kilometre area where all the shark attacks are now happening,” says Jez. “That was eight years ago. By the time they stopped fishing the sharks didn’t have anything to fear anymore so they started coming and now it’s dead territory. They ate everything. There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers.”

When thirteen-year-old shredder Elio Canestri was killed in front of his pals in 2015, Jez told me, “All these sharks, bro, fuck, it’s the real deal. Perfect waves. Sunny day. Eight kids in the water and the shark attacked in the middle of everyone. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how those kids feel?”

Even Kelly Slater, who ain’t gung-ho when it comes to killing animals, advocated a cull.

“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen every day. There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French govt needs to figure this out asap. 20 attacks since 2011!?”

Jez visits regularly. He don’t surf.

“It’s not worth the risk,” he said.

(Note: It’s five am in Reunion. Got a few pals there. I’ll call ’em for the inside story in a few hours.)

Chas Smith: “I’m really ok. Trust me. Everything’s going to be fine!”

You met me at a very strange time in my life.

Oh ye of little faith. Ye hand-wringers and furrow brow’d. Ye frowny-face’d, hurt-feeling’d, ultra-serious friends. Did you really think all of this was for one podcast? For one simple podcast where I go in guns blazing, telling the World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, etc. Erik “ELo” Logan off, finally having our say then storming out in a blaze of broken ceramic WSL mug shards?

Or being dragged out by the collar, vintage Ray-Bans in pieces on the floor, even though a neck/lower receding jawline punch couldn’t bring them low?

For one damned podcast?



I suppose that’s the way every single one of my short story arcs have played thus far. I provoke, opponent takes giant swing losing balance in the process while I stand to the side laughing, the audience either laughing with me or at but I’m always the winner.

I’m always Mohammed Ali dancing like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

And it was easy with Mick Fanning, Rip Curl’s Neil Ridgway, Ashton Goggans, etc. Simple and funny-ish but I’m bored to tears with these short story arcs now. A decade plus writing the same material. They’re all the exact same except for the beanies or berets.

The World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, etc. Erik “ELo” Logan, though, is a different challenge altogether. A heavyweight. A worthy opponent trained in the arts of manifested success, mentored by Oprah, charming, quick, savvy.

This is core versus corporate at a level I haven’t come close to scratching and I don’t want to write another short story. I want to write a novel, or at least novella, with twists and turns, intrigue, hopes, hopes dashed and, at the end (spoiler alert) this scene right here…

You may not like each of the chapters but I’ll be damned if you don’t appreciate the book.

New BFFs, the gossip writer Chas Smith, mercenary Erik Logan and broadcaster Davey Scales.

JP Currie: “The plan is to package surfing up and sell it back to us? I say fuck that. You don’t own it.”

"The sceptical treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered by Chas and Dave. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged."

I’m like you. I’m just a punter who loves surfing but doesn’t get to do it nearly as often as he’d like.

We share the barriers, partners, kids, jobs, family, friends, money, geography, our health, the weather. In varying degrees, they all amount to the same thing: not as much time as we’d like to just surf.

And therein lies my problem with Erik Logan.

He’s not like me. Not even a little bit.

Educated the expensive way, he knows his claret from his Beaujolais.

Decides he’s going to be “a surfer” in his 40s or whatever.

Gets to surf every day he feels like it.

Has a personal photographer.

Probably spends more on boards every month than I do on my mortgage.

Swans around tropical surf camps.

Hangs out with surf glitterati.

And, presumably, makes a shit ton of money from all of it.

I’ve never been on a boat trip. Aside from one Indo trip (too long ago now to even savour the memories) I’ve never been in the tropics. I can’t afford any of that.

My world is one of eking a living at the 9-5. Of enduring all the bullshit that life throws at you. Of trying to negotiate and squeeze a few hours in the water here and there. Of constantly having to apologise for it.

None of this is his fault, of course.

I listened to Chas n Dave be hosted by ELo. It was not what I was expecting. The sceptical whothefuckareyoucunt treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged.

We all play the cards we’re dealt, for the most part. But how am I supposed to back a guy like that?

What would he possibly know or care about my surf experience?

And what’s to admire in a rich man trying to get richer through surf?

I listened to Chas n Dave be hosted by ELo. It was not what I was expecting. The sceptical whothefuckareyoucunt treatise that we have all contributed to right here on BeachGrit was not delivered. Erik Logan was not called to account for being Erik Logan. He was not challenged.

I don’t blame them. ELo was charming. He seemed like a good guy, albeit a practised one. They walked into his world and he called the plays. They may run rings round him in the water, but over a conference table, or in the world of media, Erik Logan is the Alpha.

His vision of the WSL is a broad church, with space on the pews for everyone. Surfing through the eyes of Eric Logan is a happy-clappy inclusive utopia.

It’s nice, romantic even.

But it’s bullshit. And worse, it’s disingenuous.

Because the subtext is clear. The WSL is becoming a dragnet.

They want to control every aspect of surfing because that is how you maximise profit.

Erik Logan is clearly a mercenary, and in his world the North Stars shine bright. Once upon a time we told Google what we were interested in, now they tell us. Jeff Bezos was just a guy who sold books.

So, the plan is to package surfing up, tie a neat little bow around it, and sell it back to us?

I say fuck that. You don’t own it.

I could believe Erik Logan is a nice man, I just don’t believe he’s The People. I’m not sure I trust his motivations. He understands productivity, and efficiency, and maximising gains.

I’m not sure he really understands what surfing is. I’m not sure any of us do, except in our own context.

I teach high school English, as I’ve mentioned before. Language and literature is a broad church, too. I introduce kids to texts that I like, that’s only natural.

But I try, at all costs, not to be too prescriptive. I don’t tell them what to like, what’s good art or what’s bad art. You’ve got to let them find it for themselves.

Find what you love and let it kill you.

As a kid I loved to read. But all through school and university I pretty much gave up on it. I resented being told what to do, what was good and bad. What I should read. How I was meant to feel about something.

That’s the thing with writing, or surfing, or any creative pursuit. It’s yours to make of it what you want. And there will always be a dualism that can’t be justified or explained. It is at once everything, and nothing.

It’s just words on a page, except it’s not.

It’s just actors playing a role, except it’s not.

It’s just wiggling along a wave, except it’s not.

It’s how it makes you feel that’s important.

And the feeling is yours. No-one has any right to dictate it, or control it, or worse: try and sell it to you.

Jen See: “I just bought a single-fin’d surfboard to fulfill childhood dreams of becoming a graceful ballerina!”

So flowing! So smooth!

Texting a surfboard shaper can be like tossing a bottle into the sea, and hoping that the message tucked away inside will eventually reach its destination. Will there be an answer? We can only wait and hope.

So when I confided to Ryan Lovelace over text message that I maybe wanted a singlefin, I did not expect an immediate answer. But there he was, right back to me. Oh, I have a few of those at the shop, he said. His shop is less than a mile from my house. Just about everything in Santa Barbara is about a mile from my house, it seems. Except Rincon. Rincon is more than a mile from my house, which is sad, but we can’t have everything in this life.

The idea of singlefin has nagged my brain for a while. So flowing! So smooth! Perhaps by some alchemy, I could discover grace. I should confess right now to trying and mostly failing at ballet as a child. Grace is not really my thing. I am good at endurance sports that are notable for requiring a stupid determination to keep doing a thing that hurts. I do not know how I drew this particular athletic card, but it seems that we don’t get to choose these things.

On the whole, my boards have run toward the small and skateboardish. More speed than grace. This pattern might reflect a subconscious wish that I could actually ride skateboards. (I can’t.) Can you imagine being able to just go play any time you want? No tides, no wind, just pavement. Better still, there’s a lot of pavement in the world. The problem is, pavement breaks bones, in my experience, and I like my bones in their current arrangement. So, surfing.

In the current issue of Surfers Journal, LT interviews six shapers from around the surfing world. The premise of the story is the two-board quiver. What’s your ideal two-board quiver? The story resonated with me, because mostly by accident, I’ve spent the past year or so carrying the same two boards to just about every session and riding one or the other. They aren’t my only two boards — but they’re the two I’ve ended up riding most often without thinking too hard about it.

The first is a square-tail thruster I ordered custom to work in half-assed waves. I liked it so much that I ended up riding it pretty much all the time. Made by Jason Feist at J7 Surfboards, it’s got some width tucked into the nose and tail. For the nerds, which is all of you: 5’9” x 19” x 2 5/16”, 27 liters. Futures Blackstix fins.

If the first board is pretty conventional, the second is… not a thruster. You’ve all met my tiny twinfin before, and when I first picked it up — and let Chas smell it — I had no idea how much I would ride it. I figured it would be a summer fling, a novelty. Turns out, the little thing is damn addicting. Made by Christine Brailsford Caro at Furrow, it’s a 4’10” twinfin, single concave to v-bottom, moon tail, 19” wide. I got a pair of fins from Christine, which she designed.

Two totally different boards: Which to ride? Somedays, the conditions make the decision quickly and easily. If it’s over shoulder high, that 4’10” starts to feel like a twig in the rapids. Easy choice, ride the shortboard. Steep? Again, three fins feel pretty great. Junky? The shortboard minces its way through the texture a little more easily than the tiny toy board. On a clean, waist-high day, that twinfin looks insanely appealing. On an average day, though, either board will work.

Mostly, it’s a mood thing. The twinfin is fast, slidy, silly. It’s impossible to ride that little thing without grinning like a fool. It’s terrible in a crowd, which in a weird way, makes it good. It’s almost impossible to be an angry asshole on a board that looks like a Tiffany box, if a Tiffany box could float. It does the cutest little turns and flies down the line on a wire. Surfing should be fun, and this little board is the best reminder of that truth that I may have ever ridden.

If I’m in the mood to bash things, well, there is a reason that angry shortboarder is the stereotype. And there’s something deeply satisfying in the way a well-tuned thruster that’s familiar and comfortable will go very precisely where you tell it to go. The shortboard is also very good at telling me that some of my ideas about where we should go aren’t really that smart. Nobody’s perfect.

So there I was, standing in Ryan Lovelace’s exuberantly cluttered shop, looking at a singlefin shaped by Alex Lopez. I’m pretty sure shapers’ workshops are the same the world over. There’s the cluttered space where finished boards and random detritus hangs out. And then, there’s the precise foam-dusted room, with the tools neatly stored, where the actual boards are made. The contrast will always amaze me, I think.

So how does this even work, I ask him. We crack jokes back and forth about where to put the traction pad (No, I didn’t! I promise, I didn’t!) and how maybe there’s a couple fins missing back there. You just do less, he tells me. I nod and try to understand the idea that the board will do the work for me. You just cruise. I’d probably fuck this up and try to hack a foot off the length if I were ordering this thing custom (it’s 6’7”), I say. And yes, that would defeat the point — or at least, change the nature of the project entirely.

Then I handed him a wad of cash and slid the board under my arm. I promised to ride it in good surf, assuming I can figure out how it works well enough to do that without creating a total disaster. Do less, I mumbled to myself. I’m not sure I’m good at doing less. I walked out into the damp, grey light and stood, board under my arm, waiting for the afternoon traffic to break. Maybe I can find waves this weekend. Maybe I can figure this thing out. I enjoy my optimism — and my delusions.

(And yes, because I know y’all in the comments section will ask: I pay for pretty much all my stuff in surfing, so anything mentioned in this here story, I bought with cash money. So there’s that.)