Is dying in the mouth of a Great White worth the kick of surfing?
As existential questions go, it’s a doozy. How long after a fatal shark hit at your home beach would you get back in the water?
For the surfers of Tuncurry, a precious stretch of east-facing coastline a few hours north of Sydney and when y’combine its neighbour Forster maybe the best waves on the north coast, it is, literally, existential.
Every surfer in Tuncurry has gotta ask him, herself: Is dying in the mouth of a Great White worth the kick of surfing?
A witness on the beach said, “The shark came out of the water, just smashed him, five seconds later he came round and hit him again… Just the whole bone exposed, no meat on him at all.”
A couple of days later, the joint was still crawling with ’em, a Channel 7 drone filmed a White cruising the shoreline, fifty feet from shore.
A little further out Whites were being caught, tagged and released.
Now, think about it.
You live in Tuncurry.
You’ve surfed all your life.
You’ve felt an increasing Great White vibe there, hard not to when a drone operator regularly releases footage of Whites swimming among surfers and swimmers and the Department of Primary Industries announces it has caught and released sixty-five Whites in a six-month period, but not enough to keep you out of the drink.
No near misses, not in Tuncurry at least, although everyone knows the story of Colin Rowland being dragged underwater by a White at Bulls Paddock, twenty clicks away; not so many know the similar story of Chris Little getting the same treatment a few years later at nearby Boomerang Beach.
In May 2020, two Great Whites swam under three surfers at Tuncurry, the drone footage evidence it seemed at the time that the squad that patrols this stretch of beach found little of value in the bones of human beings.
“We could hear a drone going and I’m like ‘where is that coming from?’ And we turned around and there’s a dude running down the beach to come wave us out of the water yelling ‘there’s two Whites behind you!’” one of the surfers told Channel Nine’s The Today Show.
“I actually found it quite reassuring that they’re not interested in us, they were just swimming past and happened to run into us,” said another.
“I reckon it happens on a near daily basis here,” said the third.
The Whites are still there. No one’s coming to take ‘em away. They’re protected so there’s gonna be more around every year.
What do you do?
I grew up in the eighties, West Oz, and the spectre of a shark attack was an abstract concept, to say the least.
Not one surfer had been killed by a shark, in Western Australia history until 2004, long after I’d left, when Brad Smith was hit by two Great Whites at Lefthanders.
(More fatal attacks on surfers would follow, 2005, 2010, 2o11, 12, 13, 16, 17, a couple in 2020 and a raft of non-deadly hits, along with fatal attacks on swimmers and divers)
I’d moved to Queensland where the last hit was at Moreton Island 1992; down the coast in Byron, there hadn’t been a hit on a surfer since Martin Ford at Tallows in 1982.
All pretty safe, and easy to avoid.
I kept an imaginary pencil in my head and would lick the nib and draw a line through joints that hosted a fatal attack.
Until 2004, I only had to avoid Moreton Island, in Queensland, Tallows in Byron and anywhere around Cactus.
In 2021, if you surf, and you live on Australia’s east coast, or in Western Australia, Great Whites patrol the waters in greater numbers, it is safe to presume, in living memory.
Healthy, abundant stocks.
What do you do?
When do you go back?
At Snapper, Occ was back the next day.
At J-Bay, after the non-fatal hit on Mick, Derek Hynd took an hour or two before he dived in.
What about you?