A ten-foot White caught, tagged, released off Angourie on Australia's east coast by the Department of Primary Industry's Shark Smart program. | Photo: @nsw_ sharksmart

Australia’s Great White Shark Crisis: “How do you protect your kids from shark attack when the evidence is stacking up that it could happen at any time, in any conditions?”

"The ocean, always a place of transformative powers with the ability to wash away sadness and depression, now feels foreboding and dark."

I’m lost.

I’ve got two weeks off in the middle of prime surf time on the NSW North Coast: offshore winds, pulsing southerly swells, nominally smaller crowds.

This should be peak surf pig time.

Up early, twice or thrice daily surfs, road trips.

This is accentuated by the fact I’ve now got two surf stoked teens, both on winter school vacay, in tow. Daughter and son both surf bug-bitten.

You remember what it’s like to be a grom. You’ll surf anything, anywhere, anytime.

So week one of the holidays, we had been doing a whole heap of surfing.

Now, this binge of surf piggery has been brought to a shuddering halt by the death of 15-year-old Mani Hart-Deville in a shark attack in a neighboring surf community.

The other end of the stretch of national park that I usually surf.

A student at the school I used to teach at.

Too close to home.

I got the full rundown of the whole harrowing event from a first responder. The scariest, most traumatic shit you can imagine. Made all too real by the similarity in age to my own sprogs and the recounted experience of what the young man’s parents had to endure.

From full throttle to flatlining in the space of a day.

The ocean, always a place of transformative powers with the ability to wash away sadness, anger, frustration, depression and tension with nothing more than a quick dip, now feels foreboding and dark.

I’ve already modified my own surf behaviour, due to the spate of attacks to the north of me in the Ballina/Byron area in years previous. I was on a surf alone at sunrise, out of the water before 7.30 am rotation when that shit all went down. No longer.

When I was a kid, there seemed to be concrete rules for avoiding becoming prey for something built for ocean predation: don’t surf at sunrise or sunset, don’t surf alone, don’t surf in murky water, avoid deep water, avoid reefs and rivermouths.

Now all the old paradigms are out the window.

The weekend attack happened at two pm on a sunny winter’s day. Small beachbreak peaks not fifty metres off the shore.

The same with the majority of the Ballina “cluster” attacks in years previous.

Middle of the day, sunny, fun swells, very inviting.

I’m flummoxed as to how to modify my behaviour any more to avoid an attack. When I say my behaviour, I’m thinking primarily of how I’m going to manage my kids.

If I get hit, I get hit.

I don’t know how I could face the idea of knowing that I put my kids in harm’s way through my example and guidance. A parent’s primary responsibility is to teach and nurture.

To dispense advice and information to help their offspring navigate situations safely.

But how do you protect your kids and yourself from attack, when the evidence is stacking up that it could happen at any time, in any conditions?

While I know it has probably always been this way, it just feels that the dial on the likelihood of a shark interaction here on the North Coast has moved from implausible to distinctly possible.

Two days after the attack I’m at a loss with what to do.

Normally I’d get up, we’d pack the car and go find a wave. Now I don’t want to. Well, I do want to, but I’m hesitant to.

This is the rhythm and rhyme of my life, but now it’s out of sync.

I lag.

I do the washing, tidy the house.


It’s sunny, it’s offshore, a classic winters day. So we pack the car with boards, wetsuits, and towels. Just in case.

We arrive to be greeted with groomed little two-foot peaks under a light offshore. God, it looks tempting.

I bump into an old local. He’s a member of the bite club. Took a hit from a bull shark at the local back beach after a flood, surfing in murky water in 2001. Used a leg rope to tourniquet his thigh, climbed the headland, drove himself fifteen minutes to the local hospital and passed out laying into the horn as he rolled into the emergency bay.

The kids look, wait for me to give them the cue.

Are we going out?


Not today.

We walk the beach, climb the headland, continually scan the waves, kick a football on the beach, try to resist temptation.

I bump into an old local, now in his late sixties, still as surf stoked as ever. The number of days he has left to surf are winding down he knows, got to get as many go-outs in as he can before he can’t go out no more.

He’s a member of the bite club. Took a hit from a bull shark at the local back beach after a flood, surfing in murky water in 2001. Used a leg rope to tourniquet his thigh, climbed the headland, drove himself fifteen minutes to the local hospital and passed out laying into the horn as he rolled into the emergency bay.

“You’ll be right to go out” I joke. “What are the odds of getting hit twice?”

“Not today,” he says. “Best to leave it for a bit.”

The rational part of both of us knows that the chances of anyone getting hit today are the same as any other day. But it just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t feel responsible for me to allow my kids into that environment, barely twenty-five kilometres and under forty-eight hours from where a kid basically the same age died a traumatic death simply enjoying what my kids want to enjoy right now.

I know all the arguments.

I’ve subscribed and parroted them myself. You’ve got more chance of dying on the way to the beach, you enter their environment at your own risk, a life lived in fear is a life half lived. But today I look at the ocean, and I look at my son and daughter and I just can’t bring myself to allow them to enter the water. Not today.

I know it can’t last.

The lure of surf is now as much a part of their lives as it is mine.

And a small part of me now curses that.

Curses the fact that my kids are now infatuated and enamored with this lifestyle and environmental interaction we call surfing.

Mani Hart-Deville, there for the grace of God go I, could have been my son or daughter in the great game of chance that now seems to be the act of surfing on the NSW North Coast.

One day soon, we’ll go surfing again.

We’ll be wary at first, tentative and skittish.

And if we’re lucky, with time things will again begin to feel, well, normal.

The ocean will hopefully become a place again of feeling joy and exhilaration, rather than of trepidation.

I want my kids to still love surfing, to still feel alive in the ocean.

But I don’t want to lose my kids in the ocean, don’t want to see them pulled clinging to life from the sea.

Breaking: Austrian-owned Red Bull fires North American president, CEO, as alleged “retaliation” after leaked internal memos criticize company’s “public silence” on racial unrest!

Big trouble in little Salzburg!

According to an explosive report, Austria’s Red Bull has carried out a “Night of Long Cans” against North American top executives, including CEO Stefan Kozak and and President/CMO Amy Taylor, after leaked memos dated from June 1 detailed employee frustration and criticism regarding Red Bull’s “public silence” on Black Lives Matter.

It is alleged that top Austrian officials held Kozak and Taylor responsible for the leaks and the “internal tensions behind them.”

Employees declared the move was retaliatory.

“Several insiders close to the situation said it was widely believed that Kozak and Taylor were fired by Austrian leadership over the leak and internal tension over diversity issues. Two employees said Taylor had been working on a project to increase Black representation at Red Bull but that the leadership wasn’t interested.”

Both Kozak and Taylor were well-respected and seen as rising stars. Taylor had been with the company since 1999 and a considered a “true leader.”

Florian Klaass, the global head of music, entertainment and culture marketing, was also fired after a corporate presentation slide was leaked to Business Insider that showed a map of the world labeling the Middle East and Southeast Asia as “evil doers,” continental Europe as “pussies” and South America as “coffee comes from here I think.”

Images from a 2015 Russian Red Bull Flugtag event featuring Barack Obama and men in blackface chasing a banana have also resurfaced, increasing scrutiny of the brand’s culture.

But what does this mean for No Contest and the questionable touching of professional surfers with ring adorned salchichas?

More as the story develops.

MT, centre, with his More Core Division. Best surf team ever? Yeah, it was.

Surf great famous for Busting Down the Door, game-changing surf brand and bristling coke addiction gravely ill with throat cancer. “He is tragic and fantastical!” says Matt Warshaw

"I hope he is lauded for the way he left surfing — for Paris, Tokyo, New York; for ateliers, design studios, clubs, foreign-language magazine racks — then just as eagerly returned to cross-pollinate our beautiful but woefully inbred sport."

I have no doctor’s note to prove it, but at the south end of my duodenal bulb, hard against the superior flexure, is a nubbin of scar tissue marking the place where an ulcer sprouted and flourished over a six-month period in 1986 when I dated Michael Tomson’s not-quite-ex-girlfriend.

Just an extended summer romance. Nothing at the outset, flirty and harmless, haha, nobody even knew!

Then a friend of mine who was also a friend Michael’s pulled me aside and matter-of-factly reported that Michael found out and was going to “serve my head on a platter,” and I didn’t get a restful night’s sleep until late 1987.

Michael Tomson was overwhelming.

In all things, for better and worse. I use the past tense, which is not technically right, although week before last I got a message that he had advanced throat cancer, followed by a second message that he had died, then a third and final message that he was alive but in bad shape and not expected to recover.

Write about him now, while he still might read it, I was urged. Do not hold back, jump all the way in, that’s what he’ll want.

Michael’s legacy is and will always be divided into three parts. The easy, uncomplicated, foundational part was built wave-by-grinding-wave at Pipeline in the winter of ’75-’76.

At that epochal Free Riding moment in time, Michael was, let’s say, 60% the surfer his cousin Shaun was in terms of raw talent.

Was that hard to live with?


But my guess is that playing second banana throughout his formative years to a younger and slightly better-looking relative had much to do with what Michael achieved in his career, beginning at Pipeline, where he never out-surfed Shaun but often out-gritted him.

Shaun was a surgeon on those big hollow walls. Michael was a bull at full charge with six banderillas stuck in his back.

You couldn’t take your eyes off either of them. (How did Michael get ready for Pipe? Easy, surf Waimea. “After Waimea, it makes going back to Pipeline much easier. And Sunset’s a joke after Pipeline.” Read the full interview here.)

The second part of Michael’s legacy is Gotcha, the wildly innovative and successful company that he co-founded in 1978 and into which he poured all of his fissioning talent, taste, ambition, and vanity.

Gotcha was, above all things, a big blaring Moulin Rouge-level spectacle.

Throughout the 1980s, you never knew what the company would do next, except that, like Michael himself, it would be outsized and extreme. For me, the Gotcha project was always hit or miss. The Gotcha Pro, spawn of Mardi Gras and the Op Pro, was a gaudy, bloated world tour setback.

Gotcha’s infamous “If You Don’t Surf, Don’t Start” ad campaign, with its gallery of American non-surfing and therefore unworthy archetypes (fat kid, old person, street-tough) juxtaposed against color action shots of Gotcha team riders — the cool kids — was mean, petty, awful.

But the energy pouring forth from Gotcha’s Costa Mesa HQ, month after month — the sheer creative horsepower, the audacity — was miles ahead of any surf commerce entity, and I don’t just mean Quiksilver and Billabong, but all of it, the mags, the boardmakers, filmmakers, everything.

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the whole sport was slipstreaming behind Michael and Gotcha. Nobody else could have made Surfers: the Movie, for example, which I’m glad to see is now in the Best Surf Film Ever conversation. 

The third and final part of Michael’s legacy will be his enduring and literally all-consuming cocaine addiction, which Chas Smith calls “Shakespearean . . . a forty-year dance.”

Tomson’s longtime friend Phil Jarratt wrote about it in 2015. Tomson himself unapologetically spoke of his drug use, and much more, during a conversation with Smith less than three years ago (read here), in which he throws his head like a bull and is thus recognizable as the surfer he was in 1975, but is now swaying and about to buckle at the knees.

Both pieces are difficult to read.

I hope that Michael Tomson is further remembered and lauded for the way he happily, eagerly, relentlessly left surfing — for Paris, Tokyo, New York; for ateliers, design studios, clubs, foreign-language magazine racks — then just as eagerly returned to cross-pollinate our beautiful but woefully inbred sport.

That was the plan (read here) from the very beginning.

If you have a Gotcha-era surf mag handy, open it up and look how flat every non-Gotcha page looks by comparison. When you watch Surfers, remember that Michael was stealing, to our great benefit, from Rolling Stone, not Bruce Brown.

Hell, at one point this crazy bastard had us all wearing elastic-band madras-plaid Bermuda shorts!

For 35 years I have been both awestruck and ambivalent about Michael Tomson. He is tragic and fantastical, but familiar.

His love of surfing is mine.

His nihilism is a distant cousin to my mostly outgrown but still vibrantly recalled selfishness.

Maybe some of you feel the same way.

“I’m not bold enough to be Michael Tomson,” Chas Smith writes, “so I need him to be Michael Tomson for me and to hell with the price — physical, financial, emotional, mental — that he has to pay.”

(Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Matt Warshaw, keeper of the Encylopedia of Surfing, sends subscribers a longish form email describing his historical adventures of the week, with nods to contemporary events. It’s a fine thing to receive amid the tidal wash of emails offering clothing sales and discounted trinkets and, if you surf, it’s as essential as wax and, for three bucks or whatever it is a month, cheaper.)

See this ten-foot White? Caught on a drumline at Ballina, "Shark Number 28" has been tracked swimming from Queensland to WA and back. Forty thousand clicks since it was tagged in 2016. | Photo: @NSW_ sharksmart

Longtom on Australia’s Great White crisis: “Is there a tipping point? Or do we accept a world of more Whites, more bleed-outs, more epic battles between surfers and sharks?”

Ain't there an ethical obligation to consider the kids who wind up in the jaws of nature's most opportunistic predator? The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?

The grey bodies under the sheet on a beach are stacking up and when it’s a fifteen-year-old kid it’s even more upsetting.

I was talking to an attack survivor in a Ballina kitchen this morning and the kid’s Dad was his wedding singer. It’s a small, connected world and the trauma of someone getting ripped apart in the surf ripples through it quickly.

Is there a tipping point where something gets done about it?

Or do we accept a world of increasing White sharks, more surfers getting whacked, more bleed outs, more epic battles between surfers and sharks who didn’t read the modern-day script that it was all just a case of mistaken identity and once they realised the boo boo they’d just swim off red faced.

This one came back and wanted more of the kid.

Like the one on Rob Pedretti and others.

Yet academics like Chris Neff still make tenure writing papers that say the problem is not the shark attacks but the public perception of sharks that lingers after the movie Jaws in 1976.

A more paradisical place to breath your last breath can’t be imagined.

Little half point cloaked with pandanus palms with wedgey lefts. Miles of unattended beach leading to a rivermouth. Paperbark swamps behind the dunes where brolgas dance in the spring time. The dirt road to the break winds past a lake of sweet fresh water – the town water supply – where, if you’re discreet, you can slip in for a quick skinny dip to wash the salt off post surf.

It’s an area saved from crowds by distance from the highway and mostly B-grade spots that hipsters, eurokooks and paid freesurfers eschew.

There’s a growing disconnect here between science and reality…and I come from the side of science.

Spent three years at Queensland’s premier sandstone institution in front of the lions of the marine biology game. The White shark remains a cypher, both in its abundance and even the basic biology.

Two-and-a-half metres is the size estimate of the one that mauled Mani Hart-Deville.

A baby.

About the size of the one that swooped me last year. How old is that animal? Estimates vary.

The established science states Whites are slow growing and long lived but a Japanese study found much faster growth rates and age to maturity. They age an eight-footer as young as two years old and age to reproductive maturity as young as seven for gals, half the time quoted in other studies.

Which would make the currently established numbers in the east Australasian population – a range between 2909 to 12,802 – about as meaningful as the racing guide on a fish-and-chips wrapper.

Not to disparage shark scientists but their form is patchy.

I stood in a hall nursing a brown sanga* with 200 of my fellow brethren and sistren on Sunday August 9, 2015 in the midst of the first shark crisis.

Tadashi was in heaven, Craig Ison looked like a slab of raw meat attacked with a cleaver, Matt Lee only survived by a miracle, Jabez Reitman was torn up.

People wanted something done.

Infamously, lead shark scientist Dr Vic Pedemoors, a fine South African stud, came on the radio on the eve of a tagging program instigated by the pressure from that meeting and said local surfers were a bunch of pussies ( I paraphrase, but that is the gist) and that he expected very few sharks to be located and caught.

The fuel guage barely moved in the shark boat such was the fine fishing for White sharks found right outside the rivermouth.

Two were tagged with the opening hour.

Many more, of course, followed.

Science does not have a good handle on the White shark population of eastern Australia. Growth rates, time to maturity, fecundity, transition from juvenile to adult survival rates, seasonal aggregations have all likely got bigger than expected error margins.

That’s before we get to the question of why they bite us.

Meanwhile, by accident and on purpose, an almost ideal world for the White shark has been created. Protected in Australia since ’99, but likely, according to the supplementary material on the CSIRO population study, to have faced decreasing threats from humans since the late 80’s, bolstered as adults by increases in whale and seal numbers.

Boosted as juveniles and sub-adults by decreases in commercial fishing in NSW and the establishment of marine parks along the Australian coastline.

We’ve created a world tailormade for our old pal the White shark.

But if you create such a world, and the White Shark Recovery Plan makes clear such a world is a desirable and wondrous thing then ain’t there a slight ethical obligation to consider the kiddies and old sea dogs who wind up in the jaws of nature’s most long lived apex, opportunistic predator?

The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?

The Mums, Dads, school mates, drinking pals, girlfriends and boyfriends etc etc etc?

Is there an end state where we can say, OK, too many, let’s go fishing?

I almost daren’t say it, but it feels like we could be close.

* A dry argument horrifies me only slightly less than getting hit by a white.

Watch: World’s greatest athlete Kelly Slater reveals what led to his “full-on breakdown” and how a little yoga with Tom Carroll saved him!

Hint: It involves a spectacular falter.

Two weeks ago, in a tease even greater than any planned World Surf League announcement, the world’s greatest athlete admitted to a moment in his unmatched professional career that was a “full-on breakdown.”

What was the moment?

What could it have been?

We all waited with bated breath for the Apple TV’s Greatness Code to be released. The series focuses on pivotal moments in legendary sporting lives. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Usain Bolt and of course Kelly Slater.

But back to the moment… what? What would have sent tears rolling down Kelly Slater’s tanned, sculpted cheeks?

Did you have a guess?

Derek Rielly wondered if losing the title to Andy Irons at Pipeline in 2003 might have done it but, as Greatness Code was released in its entirety yesterday, wondering is no longer necessary.

But should I spoil for you or will you savor the suspense all day, go home, butter some popcorn, pour a refreshing Snapple ice tea and press play?

Oh heck, nobody has/cares about Apple TV anyhow so the moment was when Danny Wills, great Australian regular foot, “faltered in spectacular fashion” at the 1998 Pipeline Masters, opening the door for Kelly Slater to shoot up and snag his 5th World Title.

Very exciting.

Apparently, winning five World Titles was his childhood dream and with it suddenly right there in front of him, the champ emotionally broke down.

Thankfully Nick Carroll’s brother Tom was there and did a little yoga with Kelly in order to calm him down. Very progressive of Tom, I think, as 1998 would have been early days for our modern yoga movement.

In any case, Slater went on, won the crown and cemented himself as the greatest athlete in the world by winning six more on top of those five.

Take that Tom Brady.

But does Kelly Slater’s breakdown moment surprise you?

Do you have a favorite breakdown moment of your own?

Watch here!