Sharks, and facing danger with fear or respect

Saturday morning I woke early and fresh, having taken it unusually easy on Friday night. I stepped outside, noted the favourable winds, recalled the swell forecast from seabreeze.com.au, and for the first Saturday in at least a month, decided against joining the dawn patrol which would no doubt have already started rolling in to the Lefthanders’ car park, eyeing that wonderful stretch of coastline between Big Rock and Umbies.

I cruised in to town for a coffee. I noted the license plates of hire cars and tourists rolling in to town for the Gourmet Escape. I got to the gym when it opened at 9am, thinking a work out in the morning would serve me well, and that I’d cleanse my sweaty soul with a mal slide at Grunters that afternoon.

Fifteen minutes later I received a text from a colleague telling me there had been a shark attack. She had heard it was at Gracetown. She went to investigate. I carried on with my work out. Within the hour I had been told a man had died surfing at Umbies, the same break I had decided against surfing about four hours earlier.

By the end of the day the facts had outrun the rumour mill, Chris Boyd’s name had been released and it became clear I would not be able to distance myself from this death as a journalist, as a surfer, or even in my personal life. The social media tributes were flowing in, as is to be expected in a small town, from casual acquaintances, but also from colleagues, good friends, and surprisingly, from old high school friends back in Queensland.

Not only did Chris Boyd move in similar circles to me in Margaret River, but had also done so in Coolum in Queensland, a ten minute drive from my parents’ house and where I surfed throughout my teenage years, and still return to a couple of times a year. I realised it would be foolish and a lie to pretend my weight of grief, at whatever distance my life and Chris’s existed, was insignificant.

Is it arrogant of me to think I can speak to his, his friend’s, or his family’s experiences? Or would it be selfish to not use the access I have to a forum such as this to attempt to gather my thoughts and approach something that might resemble meaning? I can do it for myself, and hope that maybe it will do something for someone else.

Chris and I have friends in common, we’ve surfed together at the same breaks, and, although it was not uncommon, we have both made the journey from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and found ourselves at home in Margaret River, this beautiful surf mad town.

Now however, this beautiful town and surfing community is saddened and unsure of where to go or who to go to next.
The social media tributes have been replaced with social media debate which dissolve, occasionally, into impassioned vitriol.
Do we return to the ocean? Do we just find solace in each other? Do we arm ourselves to the teeth and hunt for the wretched beast for ruining so many lives? Or do we, while we can, live and let live, realising that the ocean is not our ocean, and the earth not our earth, despite the tragedies we face most definitely being our tragedies.

I can’t speak to Chris’s opinions, but the majority of watermen I know, have spoken to, and whose words I have read in recent days all throw about one word in particular on the subject of sharks and the dangers of the ocean: respect. Aside from the science, the opinions, the rhetoric and the politics there should only be respect.

To enter the Indian ocean requires a knowledge of those that have entered the Indian ocean before you, and the experiences they have shared, the stories they have told, the fates they have suffered. From this knowledge comes respect; respect of the ocean, respect of the creatures that call it home, and respect of those who join you each time you paddle out.

But you’re not full of yourself, or boastful that you can look such dangers in the eye and not let it stop you. You don’t just know the dangers, you embrace the dangers and accept fate, dropping down the face of that set wave you hung out slightly wider from the crowd for, watching it arc and peak ahead of you before it finally throws, tucking you inside that tunnel of lightest dark, and hoping it has hit the reef at just the right angle to hold you in there for so long you start to believe you won’t make it out the other end.

This week I am terrified of two things: I am terrified that the next time I go for a surf I won’t return to shore, but more than that, I am terrified that same fear will keep me from returning to the surf.

I am not religious, and I have no idea whether Chris thought he was headed somewhere whiter and brighter when he eventually departed these shores. But, to me at least, where he is now is irrelevant, because where he was was where he wanted to be, and I don’t think anyone can ask for anything more than that.

Your body may be gone, I’m gonna carry you in.
In my head, in my heart, in my soul.
And maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both live again.
Well I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope so.

Modest Mouse – The Ocean Breathes Salty

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2 thoughts on “Sharks, and facing danger with fear or respect

  1. aj says:

    Your a great writer. This is deep, on so many levels. This is just one faucet of your entire human complexion that makes up who you are.- AJ

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