Would you stay out in the water with those toe-nibblers lurking below? Photo: Shark Smart DPI
Bull Shark Drama At Ballina!
Surfers keep surfing. Mayor gets angry.
People love to read about sharks.
They're so scary! Toothy critters, all sneaky and dangerous.
You never know when one will get ya'! I don't enjoy writing about shark encounters. It feeds into the kind of pointless paranoia that breeds culls. And I like sharks. They're cool creatures. I don't want them to be slaughtered wholesale. I encounter them frequently while spearfishing and I enjoy the fact that I'm occasionally reminded of my place on the food chain. It's my belief that those of us who spend a lot of time in the ocean would do well to adopt a fatalist approach to shark attacks.
If it happens, it happens.
Like getting hit by a drunk driver or a dropping dead from an undiagnosed illness. You can't really protect yourself, so why waste time and energy worrying? And, anyway, you're statistically far more likely to be raped by your own father than bitten by a shark. If you're the type to advocate for culls, or purchase a worthless shark deterrent in search of peace of mind, you might want to start locking your bedroom door at night, first. This particular story got foisted upon me because of my aforementioned stance. Whenever the subject of sharks comes up among we scribblers I end up calling someone a pussy.
Usually Michael Ciaramella, because we're pretty much always at odds. He's emboldened by a belief that, because our readers usually side with him in the online polls attached to our semi-weekly debates, he's in the right.
In fact, the very opposite is true.
The story, which I'm approaching the long way around, takes place in New South Wales. A large group of bull sharks, estimated to number 50-60, were present at Lighthouse Beach when local surfers refused to paddle in.
“[Ballina Shire mayor David Wright ] said the council, DPI and police had been united in their decision to close the beach. But he said volunteers on inflatable rescue boats and jetboats, along with a siren being sounded, didn't coerce many of the surfers to stop enjoying the strong surf.
'The break right on North Wall was really working, and that's where (the sharks) were,' Wright said. The surf was great but just (nearby), that's where a lot of the sharks were. Once again, we've got people, in my opinion, being selfish when they know that the sharks are there."'
I love it. Especially because no one got hurt. If they had, the hand wringing would be justified and the surfers would look foolish. But everyone turned out okay. So what's the problem, really?
I've only ever encountered a large shark once while surfing. It was a solid Tiger that thrashed on the surface during a lull on a very fun, and abnormally crowded, day on Kauai. Said lulls were long and a little bit of frustration was brewing among the pack, when that unmistakable electric blue body broke the surface ten yards outside.
Everyone started paddling for the beach immediately, except for myself and another crusty middle-aged haole. I wasn't planning on staying out, I had been thoroughly spooked. But my split-second calculations told me it was better to wait a moment for a wave, then shoot past the crowd inside to safety.
I pulled my feet up onto the deck of my board and waited a few minutes before realizing that no wave was coming and I should begin paddling towards shore as well.
As the thought crossed my mind I made eye contact with the other guy. He shook his head in disgust, inclined it toward the fleeing mob and said, “Look at those fucking pussies...”
I was trapped. How could I let this total stranger, a man I've never seen before or since, think less of me? What if he tells other people, I don't know, that I'm a coward? Think of how they'd laugh at me! It couldn't happen. I had to stay out and be brave with him.
We got the spot to ourselves for about an hour and a half before anyone paddled back out. It was very fun. We traded waves back and forth, hooted at each other. I silently congratulated myself on my bravery.
People eventually started filtering back into the lineup as the tide shut things down and my arms became tired. One of them was a younger guy I know. He'd paddled in earlier and left to get lunch before coming back.
“You guys kinda scored, huh?” he asked me when he reached the lineup.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “You pussies fucking blew it.”