Close encounter with a Monster
By JAMIE BROWN
EVANS Head surfer Steve Wilson thought he was lunch when he saw the arched back of a White Pointer, its snout wrinkled, its teeth barred and pectoral fins extended.
This, quite simply, was no contest, at least not in a physical sense. The shark could have had him. And quickly too.
But in a mental sense ? in a battle of the minds ? there was some hope. Steve stayed cool and swung the sharp end of his shiny black board toward the posing beast. The shark refused to come closer ? for the moment.
For the first time since the attack early this winter, Steve has gone public with his story. He has yet to return to the water, and says he remained in a state of shock for a long time afterwards.
Steve said the first indication of any trouble came on a Monday, a fortnight before the first whales swam past our coast on their annual northern migration.
As he scanned the surf from the timber lookout at the Chinamans Beach car park, a feeding frenzy was taking place up the north end of the beach, and it appeared that several bronze whalers were gorging themselves on baitfish and mackerel.
Now he now realises it was one big shark attacking young dolphins, themselves feeding with their parents on small schooling fish. The next day bits of dolphin carcass washed up on the pebble beach north of Chinamans but Steve only heard that news after the fact.
On Wednesday he was lured back to the water by a group of friendly Brazilian tourists. The water was crystal clear and warm enough for boardshorts and a rashy.
"I had a spooky feeling and something told me to look to my north when I spotted what looked like a pod of dolphins cruising, towards me. But as it got closer the 'pod' didn't split up into separate dolphins. I thought perhaps it was a manta ray rising up out of the depths, but what I thought was the ray's white underbelly was the white belly of the shark, and what I thought were the ray's wings were actually the sharks' two pectoral fins. It was massive. I reckon 15 foot across."
The shark saw Steve, mounted atop his shiny black surf board and stopped, some seven metres away. It looked at him with his huge right eye. The water was so clear it was easy to see through it.
Steve turned his board to face his worst nightmare and the shark responded by arching its back and lifting its massive head out of the water, baring its teeth and stretching its pectoral fins down deep below its belly. It was a classic sign of aggression and a sure-fire warning of attack.
With his body turned side-on Steve could see its bulk. It stretched the length of two long-boards and its body depth would have been chest high. Its dorsal fin stood above that again, thigh-high ? as thick as a man's hand.
The awesome display of aggression served its purpose: Steve was scared into submission. But instead of paddling towards shore he held his ground, certain that if he did not the shark would have chased him down and chopped him in half 'like a big tuna'.
As Steve and the shark eyeballed each other, a Brazilian surfer further south along the beach paddled onto a wave and the splashing of his arms attracted the shark's attention: In two flicks of his massive tail the White Pointer moved 30 metres to the side of the Brazilian.
"His bulk was so massive, and his speed so great that I could feel the pressure wave as he rushed past me," Steve recalled.
The tourist yelled across at Steve, 'Orca! Do you have Orca here?' to which Steve responded, 'No! Shark!'.
The Brazilian's eyes popped open the size of saucers.
With a wave building up behind him, Steve decided to splash the water in a bid to distract the shark from the tourist. Thinking with rare logic considering the circumstances, he thought he'd be on the wave before the shark could get to him.
He was wrong.
With two full body-flicks of its tail, it was right there in front of him.
"It swam past glaring at me with his left eye. I reckon his belly must have been dragging on the sand, he was so close to the beach," recalled Steve.
The wave came up behind Steve and he surfed into shallow water, the Brazilian followed.
The shark, it turns out, swam south down Chinamans and along New Zealands before rounding Schnapper and wriggling over a sand bar and into a gutter, chasing a fisherman out of the water at the back beach. That man followed the shark for 30 metres as it cruised the gutter, before shearing off for Kahors Reef.
Needless to say Steve's lately reconsidered his recreational priorities. Surfing has taken something of a backseat while he ponders other adventures: Perhaps date farming west of Innamincka?