"To be in the water with a big shark like that was a whole new level of heightened experience.”
A little earlier today, you might’ve read Hein Cooper’s piece to camera describing his run-in with a fifteen-foot Great Whitea half-hour drive south from his Milton home on the NSW South Coast.
I figure, call the guy, see what other juice I can wring from this tempting piece of fruit, dangling as it is from the lowest of branches.
Bring, bring, hello, hello etc.
And the story begins.
Two days ago, a Saturday in Australia, Hein, who is thirty and back in Australia after seven years abroad chasing his music dream, touring Canada, Europe, America, was on all-day surf, squeezing the teat of a north swell combed smooth by westerly offshores.
First, a beachbreak for a few hours, a little bakery hit, then a savage ledge popular with bodyboarders and named after a machine capable of extraordinarily swift violence.
He saw a fin, sorta tipping on its side.
Hein figured it was a seal and looked away, told himself to act as if nothing had happened.
When he turned back, he could see it was cruising towards him, his pal Genji, who would later be photographed scrambling up the rocks as the Great White moved in, and the other four surfers on the boil.
“It was drifting pretty casually. It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to murder you motherfuckers cruising’. At that point, I said to Genji, ‘Pretty sure there’s a shark over there.’ He thought it was a seal, told me to just relax, basically.”
Another surfer told ‘em his uncle, a noted spear fisherman around these parts, had warned him of an unprecedented number of sharks kicking around.
A lot of movement.
The man had told his nephew to avoid surfing at dawn and dusk. Said he’d never seen so many sharks.
“And…then…” says Hein, “we turned around at the same time, looking over to our right and it was a clear fucking shark fin, moving directly towards us. The clearest memory I have is that moment of seeing it, yelling out ‘SHARK!’ and all of us fucking fanging it into the rocks. Like, it was so lucky it was a long-period swell. We could’ve got absolutely fucking smoked.
“Anyway, at that point, we all started paddling like crazy, all six of us. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw it again. It was moving towards us even more. For me, personally, even though I’d seen that and it was very real, this massive fucking fin moving towards me, it felt so unreal I couldn’t even conceive that it would take a bite. I wasn’t even that afraid. If it really wanted to too, it would’ve been no problem for it to reach us in a second and have a little bite. But, for some reason, maybe because we were all madly kicking and paddling, it went around us. By the time it wants to move in on us, it had gone all the way around, that’s when Genji was on the rocks looking at it.”
Hein says the beached mariners experienced the elation of men saved from the jaws of death.
“The next fifteen minutes on the headland and on the rocks we had this hero moment. Oh fuck! (Adopts provincial accent), ‘Do you realise, man, that if you hadn’t seen it, fucking, we would be dead, bro!’ All these conversations happened! It was very special. If it wasn’t for the White, we never would’ve talked to each other. It really brought every single person who was there together. The whole conversation on the rocks was about how many animals there are right now, turning on. The sharks in the ocean. Another guy said he’d been told by a fisherman he’d never seen yellow-fin tuna going so crazy, jumping against the headland at Jervis Bay. Someone said something about bushwalking in Milton and that they’d never heard the birds singing so loudly. A rise in the energy of planet earth, I think it’s positive, basically.”
The height of the fin, forty cm out of the water, probs ten or so below, means the White was no juvie and was around four-to-five metres in length, fifteen-to-eight feet.
It might surprise the reader that Hein found the moment more profound than terrifying.
“I’ll never forget that moment when we saw the fin. I feel honoured by that. You see dolphins all the time, it’s magical, and seals, but to be in the water with a big shark like that was a whole new level of heightened experience.”
He wasn’t rattled?
“I surfed again yesterday and I was fine. I thought about it a few times but, and maybe this is coming from my ignorance and the unreality of it, but it didn’t feel like we were in any danger. Obviously, if it bit someone and we had to make a tourniquet on someone’s leg and carry ‘em up the volcanic rocks and drive half-an-hour to a hospital it wouldn’t have been the same.”
“I’ll never forget the energy around it. It carried this aura of it being so calmly confidence in what it was and we were just little peasants floating about the surface being heavily educated about our position in the world. That, despite all our creations and all the things we build up around us to feel secure, it doesn’t mean a thing in nature. It was healthy reminder that we are a part of it all.”