Can a justified fear of White attack create a circle of love?
I always get a bit sad when I read here, and elsewhere, that the worst thing about surfing is our fellow surfers, how much we hate them: all a pack of c…u….n…ts……or words to that effect.
I have a different view somewhat, I wonder if it’s widespread or just a result of becoming prey in the surf zone and a curious mix of survival and fun.
It was about the most glorious day imaginable when Tadashi Nakahara got taken in Feb 2015. Late summer, warm, crystal-clear water, delightful little baby food peaks being shared by a small crowd.
He disappeared and came up without his legs.
People scattered in shock, one of my friends went back and got him. On the beach they tried to revive him.
Tadashi died in my friends arms. I won’t name him, he suffered terribly from PTSD.
A man got hit at Lennox Point. Horror show, apparently. Huge White came up out of the water as he kicked off a wave and whacked him. Matt Lee, a bodyboarder was mauled, surfing perfect peaks on a bluebird winters day. He was torniqued by pals. Died three times and lives to this day because a rescue chopper, for the first time, was carrying blood supplies with them.
July 19, Mick Fanning had his encounter at J-Bay on live broadcast. Twelve days later, Craig Ison, a fifty-one-year-old former boxer, fought his way clear of the jaws of a White shark and then vowed to quit surfing. The surf was tiny, the sun was shining.
These facts are all well known by now. It made the atmosphere around here febrile and fearful.
A lot of people just stopped surfing altogether. Dawn patrols went unattended.
Ten o’clock in the morning and pointbreak peelers went unsullied by fibreglass and human beings.
In response to being prey local surfers closed ranks. Fires were lit on the points and kept alight all day.
The smell of driftwood burning became a comfort.
Driving around looking for people to go surfing with! Safety in numbers. The guy or gal sitting next to you stopped being an impediment to your wave count and took on a different role. An unspoken question lingered between every surfer in shrunken lineups.
If you were the next one hit would they paddle away or come in and save your life?
Of course you can see how that changes the equation.
How could you hate the gal next to you whose eyes you will be staring into as you mumble through grey lips: “How bad is it, am I gunna make it?”
Low crowds remained the norm in 2016 and 2017. It seems almost unfathomable to be able to go back in time and surf pre-crowded premium pointbreaks on modern equipment, but that is what happened.
When the crowds came back, full force and larger than ever, as if the shark restraint had been a taut bow pulled back further and further and then finally released, it was hard to deal with.
Not just the size but the nature of the crowd changed. Not sure what the deal is in California but in Australia one of the biggest rackets going around is fee paying overseas students. Students pay big money to study bogus courses and get permanent residency visas etc.
If there are 500,000 overseas students in Aus as estimated then 499,000 of them are between Byron Bay and Burleigh Heads. To a man, woman and child they had been deterred from coming here because of the sharks.
In 2018, that prohibition was removed and the resulting invasion was swift and relentless. The modus operandi was simple: safety in numbers. The first car load at the Point Facebook live-streamed it and within the hour multiple van loads were on site.
Brotherhood, communalism by the fire degenerated into bloody tribalism.
None of this will come out in the upcoming court case between Carcass and Jodie Cooper but that is the context.
I’m a low wave-count guy. Normally content to pick the eyeballs out of it. That strategy became untenable sometime last winter.
On a mid-week four-foot day any semblance of order got thrown out the window. I had my little corner bar stool, waiting for a wide wedge. When it came a throng converged. Two people in front of me, trying to paddle in right in front of me. I mean, directly in front. I had to literally elbow my way through and as I got to my feet I could see out of the corner of my eye I had elbowed a gal, Spanish speaker, in the head, to catch a wave at my local break.
Some people might have been happy to laugh it off; I couldn’t find the funny in it.
Fuck it, I hate surfers.
Except a couple of months ago an Asian rock fisherman got swept off at a local Point and a fifteen-year-old kid I surf with dragged him up.
Dead weight, blood-flecked spittle foaming out of his mouth, had to keep diving down and dragging this guy up.
Got him to the rocks.
I get a little moistened up when I think of it. Fifteen and he put his life on the line dragging some stranger in.
Do I hate, or love?
I don’t know what to think. It could go either way.