Stab Magazine | Can Sharks Save Surfing?

Can Sharks Save Surfing?

From Stab issue 72: Fatal shark attacks by Great Whites are now so commonplace they struggle to find a newspaper’s page three let alone a headline. But within every pool of blood is a coagulating globule of awesome, argues San Francisco-based writer Lewis Samuels. In fact, he says, amid gross overcrowding… Can Sharks Save Surfing? Words […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

From Stab issue 72: Fatal shark attacks by Great Whites are now so commonplace they struggle to find a newspaper’s page three let alone a headline. But within every pool of blood is a coagulating globule of awesome, argues San Francisco-based writer Lewis Samuels. In fact, he says, amid gross overcrowding…

Can Sharks Save Surfing?

Words by Lewis Samuels

Surfers are dying. Literally being eaten alive, by killing machines from the Ordovician period. Death as old as the hills and the stones that form them, older even than the dawn of man’s consciousness and the savannah predators that hunted and haunted our ancestors in the heart of the dark continent. Death by shark. 420 million years old, big, bloodthirsty, dull-eyed, deep.

On Reunion Island, teenage girls are bitten in half. In South Africa, competitive bodyboarders are having legs bitten off and bleeding out. In West Oz, men are being ripped apart by teams of fish.

We’re talking horror-movie, nightmarish deaths. The kinds of deaths affluent white people with disposable income and time for recreational activities are not accustomed to experiencing, even as second-hand news.

Governments have gotten involved, taxpayers have been dying, and worse yet their voting relatives have been surviving. As if that isn’t nightmarish enough, tourism dollars are being eaten, swallowed whole, never to surface again, threatening local businesses, perhaps even the local economies of entire coastal areas. This is bad. The politicians are only in place, after all, to keep the money as close to themselves as possible, in their countries, in their counties, in their pockets when it’s plausible. So now the governments have to do something, apparently something other than telling voters and tourists to avoid the ocean if they don’t want to risk getting eaten by a fucking shark. That wouldn’t do. That would be like warning a toddler to not touch fire, because it is hot.

So more inefficient plans are being enacted. Most of these plans revolve around killing something in order to prevent killings. In Hawaii, State Representative Joe Souki came up with an ingenious plan to kill a different endangered species, sea turtles, because they are one of sharks’ food sources.

Surely if predatory sharks are starved, they’ll stop attacking tourists… yes? Ironically enough, Souki’s plan may already have come to pass, even if he doesn’t realise it. Worldwide fisheries are plummeting. In some areas, sharks’ food sources are disappearing, perhaps contributing to more attacks on humans.

This leaves the cinematic option, familiar to any moviegoer who sat through Jaws. Let’s catch sharks, kill them, cut their stomachs open, and see if any people parts are inside. If so, a fugitive has been brought to justice, dead instead of alive. Cowboy shit. If not, well… maybe we’ll at least find something cool inside the shark, like a license plate. And dead sharks make for good photo-ops. Dead sharks make politicians look strong. So on Reunion Island, sharks are already being culled. In Western Australia, “kill zones” will be designated. If sharks cross these imaginary lines in the sand, they will be hunted by professional fishermen. “The safety of human life and beach-goers must come first,” Premier Colin Barnett noted.*

Surfing will be made safe again, at least on paper. It’s easy to forget the inconvenient fact that surfing has consequences. We live in an age of ubiquitous oceanic participation, multiplying safety measures, increased litigation. Modernity shields us from risk, in the lineup and everywhere else. We learn to surf on soft boards. Surf coaches teach us about the dangers of rips. If we get in trouble, a lifeguard hauls us in. Burn a local, no worries. There’s not much they can do about it, we’ll sue. If we grow up brave, and challenge big waves, jetskis, inflatable vests and life preservers are there to protect us further. Surfing has become an increasingly safe sport. Injuries are usually minor. Death is extremely rare and usually limited to extreme conditions. Surfing now seems, at first glance, consequence free.

But it is not. Surfing has consequences. Risks are taken and sometimes bills come due. The recent spate of fatal shark attacks serves as a grim reminder. Don’t fool yourself. Surfing ain’t safe, sharks or not.

Clearly, the problem is overpopulation. Both surfers and sharks are increasing in number as both surfers and sharks are increasingly protected from harm. It doesn’t take an ecologist to predict the inevitable result: more surfers plus more sharks equals more surfers being attacked by sharks.

Overpopulation is to blame but it’s unclear if the real problem is too many sharks or too many surfers. Shark attacks aside, the exponential growth of the surfing population is certainly a fucking problem. Kill every last shark and surfing is still on the path to ruin simply due to overcrowding. All the joy is being bled out of it. We’re left with a rotting corpse of our culture as every cunt and their dentist now fancy themselves just as much of a surfer as the next guy.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. It’s another example of shifting baselines. As surfing becomes a parody of itself the parody becomes the new normal. Meanwhile, millions of lives are slowly ruined by surfing. Think of all the negatives, all the reasons to quit: snake jobs and bad vibes. Melanoma and dick rash. Corporate homogenisation combined with intellectual suffocation. Surfing’s a bad drug especially as it’s cut and diluted. We’re left chasing a high that gets lower with each new face in the crowd. Yet still we throw our lives away, lemmings over the cliff, all our waking hours spent scheming and manipulating our way towards another measly fix.

Surfing ruins lives, make no mistake. But all these negatives are not enough to discourage us. We keep jonesing for our next high, consequences be damned.

There’s only one thing left that might save surfing from itself: big, bloodthirsty sharks. They are an appropriate reminder that our lifestyle doesn’t come cheap. There are costs and as Mark Foo said, “If you want the ultimate thrill, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” For the kiddies out there, Foo was the Greg Long of his generation. He died surfing Mavericks, in an era before big wave gladiators paddled out with glorified water wings and personal lifeguards. These days, the ultimate thrill is easily purchased via credit card. Anyone with a jetski and tow-rope can get yanked into the biggest wave of his life without acute fear of dying. Add a bloodthirsty beast to the equation and that same cunt might just spend his coin on molly and hookers and leave the XXL days to the real gladiators.

So I say, save the fucking sharks! Not because it’s the moral or environmentally responsible thing to do. No! I care not for the lives of sharks. I care about my life as a surfer. I don’t give a fuck about other surfers, in fact, I hate most all of them. Let the sharks eat the lot. Start with Creed McTaggart or Alex Knost. Their lives are no more valuable than those of dirty brown kids in third-world countries who could easily be saved with a mosquito net or glass of water. If I’m not doing my part to save the lives of those kids, which is relatively easy, why should I be petitioning the French government to cull sharks to save the lives of bodyboarders? All people are created equal but that being said, I hate the French and bodyboarders even more than I hate your average surfer.

I know what you’re thinking. Fuck this guy. He’s only spouting off because he’s never seen a shark or had a friend attacked by one. Bullshit. I grew up surfing in the Red Triangle in Northern California. At 16, I was circled by a Great White as my horrified parents watched from the cliff. I’ve seen seen dorsal and tail fins rise up beside me and I’ve seen a shark as wide as a car slowly pass beneath me in clear, calm water. I’ve had five friends attacked by Great Whites. The most recent right in front of me. He was brought down by a five-metre Great White and dragged beneath the surface while I watched from a hundred yards away. We were nearly a kilometre out to sea surfing an outer reef alone. After he was hit, I paddled over to the whirlpool where he’d been pulled under and waited until he was released and floated to the surface. He paddled onto my back and I paddled him in.

And still I keep surfing. The lineups I grew up surfing are less crowded than ever, even as the worldwide kook population death-spirals out of control. The only thing keeping my local lineups empty is the threat of sharks. We need more death in surfing, not less. We need drownings in big waves. We need skulls crushed by Indonesian reefs. We need more drug overdoses and party people. Let’s ramp the death up, not down. I envision a future in which SUPers are impaled with flaming pitchforks thrown by dolphin-riding Mutant Mermen, products of Fukushima radiation.

If that’s too much to ask, I envision a future in which longboarders are attacked by wild hyenas and bears in the carpark or raped by belligerent Silverback Gorillas on the beach. If they somehow make it to the lineup, the sharks will get ’em. One can dream of a brighter future.

So I implore you to raise a glass for the departed. Thank them for their sacrifices in the name of surfing. Thank them for dying to help preserve the soul of the sport I love. And cheers to the sharks for eating them, too. Keep doing what you do. While the kooks move on to their fixie-bikes and turntables, I’ll still be out there, waiting for the next waist-high set. If you want the ultimate thrill, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price.

(*There’s been plenty of shark developments in West Oz since Lewis penned this piece: Get caught up here.)


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