23 Sep Ofer Eitan Declares: Photographer and shark attack survivor captures harrowing
A bumper season.
It is, to put it mildly, bumper season for Great White sharks on that fifty mile stretch between the Gold Coast and Ballina.
(RIP Rob Pedretti, RIP Nick Slater and, a little further south, RIP teenager Mani Hart-Deville. All surfers, all killed by Great Whites in the last three months.)
One week ago, foilboarder and local surfer Christian Bungate was hit by an eighteen-foot Great White at Cabarita, a few days after the Tweed Heads Pro was cleared when an eight-foot shark of indeterminate species swam through the lineup.
At Broken Head, same day, a twelve-foot Great White swam through a crowd of fifty surfers, bumping one surfer on its way through.
At Kirra, a few hundred metres down the beach from the Superbank, surfers were cleared when a shark swam though the lineup.
And, six days ago, at the mouth of Tallebudgera Creek, a thin cord of water that separates Palm Beach from Burleigh Heads, and where you might paddle out when Burleigh is big, a twelve-foot Great White was spotted.
Three days ago, photographer Chris Laught (@mrmysto), born in South Oz but living in Cabarita while he studies film at a vocational college in nearly Kingscliff, was shooting Duranbah, a few hundred metres from where Nick Slater was killed by a Great White two weeks earlier.
The waves, three-foot, a little bigger on the sets, dreamy as hell. Not even six am and already forty guys were out chasing a morning hit before the spring onshore.
The following day Chris is processing his shots on his laptop when he sees a Great White swimming through a wave, fifteen feet from surfers.
“I immediately thought I should right a shark hotline but figured it’s already twelve hours too late,” he says.
Chris, who rides a bodyboard, knows about sharks.
He’s photographed, swam and surfed desert South Australia plenty of times, seen Whites, knows guys who’ve been brushed.
And, he was hit, literally, by a bronze whaler while surfing at Goolwa Beach south of Adelaide in 2012, the animal hitting his leg with speed, “a massive collision” he calls it, “way harder than being hit by a cricket ball.”
The collision crushed his calf muscle, gave him a thing called compartment syndrome where pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. He’s had three bouts with deep vein thrombosis and if he wants to fly anywhere he has to walk up and down the aisles for most of the flight.
He laughs, a little uneasily maybe, when we talk about the White at D-Bah. When he left South Oz to live on the NSW South Coast in 2016 he was thrilled to be in an area that, historically at least, wasn’t known for big sharks.
But this year’s shift to the north coast, to Cabarita, has coincided with the greatest concentration of Great White attacks on surfers, anywhere, in history.
First, he was told to avoid South Wall Ballina. Then he started seeing bait balls everywhere at Caba and started to think, this doesn’t feel like the tropical sea change I thought it’d be.
“You don’t associate Great Whites with Queensland,” he says.
Chris was there, in the Caba carpark, when Christian Bungate survived the hit by the eighteen-footer.
“The beach had just been evacuated and he showed me the tooth in his foil,” says Chris. “He was really shaking, he juste wanted to get out of there.”
Whites here, Whites there, now turning up close to shore, close to surfers at D-Bah?
The photo put the wind up him?
“Oh man, I’d love to get the boog out at D-Bah, I still do, but you have that wariness, the same you get when you surf desert South Australia. You’re playing the numbers game up here, to be honest.”