A Shark’s Territory

It was one of those waves that just had a sharky feeling about it. A close friend of mine had let me in on his discovery of a section of the coast that was a swell magnet. He had never seen any other surfer even come down to check the surf, just a bunch of old fisherman trying their luck for “catch of the day”. I must say I was pretty excited when he invited me to come surf it, considering the level of crowds that surfing attracts these days, it seemed like a miracle that there was still a break that remained unridden.

My first experience of the wave

We weaved through cane fields, passing country cottages and Paul joked about finding a girl and settling down in one of the shacks. “What on earth would you do here, you’d go mad with boredom? Wait, I can just picture you chewing on sugar cane and playing the banjo on the porch, swinging on your rocking chair, that house right there!”. I burst out laughing as I pointed to one of the run down houses which coincidently had an old farmer sitting out front on his rocking chair, eyeing off our van as it passed by, surfboards strapped to the roof. “Haha, how did you do that? I just had a flash of the future”, Paul giggled with a look that said he might actually consider the move.

We jumped out of the van and I raced Paul down the sandy track, excited at what all the hype was about. When we left our popular beachside town the swell was a fickle 2ft and the wind had already started to get into it. That didn’t stop fifty surfers from battling each other over the sloppy waves. The swell this day was mostly coming from the south and the charts didn’t even show over 3ft for the whole East Coast, so how did this mysterious break show 4-5ft on the sets?! Both of our eyes nearly fell out of our heads, as we reached the end of the track. We exchanged a glance that didn’t require words. Now Paul was racing me back up the track, as we ran off laughing, I had to push him out of the way to get to the car the quickest. “I knew you had found something here! How could you keep it a secret for such a long time?!” I excitedly screeched as he opened the sliding door to grab the boards. “Well, you know, I had so many surfs here solo I thought I had better share the gems around, but you better not tell anyone else!”. I promised that we would only let our most trusting friends in on the location.

Sitting out the back of the lineup was a pretty surreal feeling. I scanned the ocean as far as I could see north and south. Not one other surfer in the water. The beach was almost as deprived of life, aside from one lonely fisherman and his dog just within sight. There was one feeling I didn’t like about all this, and that was the dark, murky waters that our legs were currently dangling into. The benefits of being a modern day surfer has to be the ability to get a clear aerial view of the breaks online. I knew there was a river running out not too far from where we were. Ultimate shark territory. “I know what you’re thinking, I can read you like a book”. Paul distracted my thoughts. “C’mon when your numbers up, your numbers up. I’ve surfed this spot countless times on my own and I’ve been fine”. He confidently said as his eyes swung to the horizon at a set approaching. We both paddled to get position as the ocean was stacked with a train of waves. I watched Paul take off on the peak and drop vertically down the face, before vanishing out of sight behind a curtain of water. The wave behind broke in the exact spot and I swung my board around with ease and paddled into an equally steep take off, before curving into a bottom turn and racing the lip down the line with Paul hooting in front of me.

Our session lasted a good four hours until we just couldn’t paddle anymore through exhausted arms. The waves we so consistent and I was still baffled that no other surfers had walked down that same sandy track we had hours before.

yamba surfing

A re-visit to the wave

The season of spring had passed since my first surf at this spot. Every other surf that Paul reported on from this break was the same. Overcast sky, murky waters but pumping waves and no crowds. He had just taken off on a trip to Paris and I recall the feeling of “asking for permission” to surf it in his absence. This time another friend of ours and a guy he knew were coming along also. I wasn’t quite as brave as Paul to surf here solo. Of course we had all complied with strict secrecy not to tell anyone about the break! Today was a bit strange as the sky was entirely blue and as we pulled up to the carpark we spotted a 4×4 with surf stickers on the back. “Alright which one of you kooks have been talking?” Michael questioned with dramatised aggression. “Shutup, as if we would want anyone else surfing here, it’s probably a summer spot for the guys that are too pussy to surf in winter”, I responded. Whatever the reason, I’m sure these guys just stumbled upon the break by accident.

We didn’t bother to check the waves but instead took our boards straight down. We had already been driving long enough and were keen to get in the water.  When we got down to the beach we saw not one, but four surfers in a pack together in the water. The water looked crystal clear which took me by surprise. “I thought Paul said no one even touched this wave?” Michael asked. “Yeah well I’ve got some stories to tell him after this surf!”, I responded. Not too phased about the small group of surfers, we headed up the beach which was laid with a few sun-bakers and dogs chasing one another. This certainly wasn’t how I remembered this beach in late winter.

We found a peak and had a pretty big paddle out through a deep gutter and out onto the shallow sandbank that attracted the swell. There was not a breath of wind and looked to be about 2-3ft on the sets. We had each caught a couple of waves before there was a long lull between sets. We straddled our boards all sitting a few metres apart from one another, talking about what we’d been up to the past few months.

I was facing Michael, casually chatting about how many good days of surf there were in spring at my local break, when I noticed an unmistakable shadow lurk directly behind him. “Shit, behind you”, I yelled out. He turned around and in a split second replied, “Go, everyone, paddle in”. I had been in the water with many sharks before, but every one of them had cruised by on their way to find more bite-sized fish. This was a very different situation. For starters the sheer size had to make it a white pointer, its length measuring longer than a small car, but its girth absolutely terrifying. I knew this one wasn’t just passing through and had been sitting there sizing us off for a bite.

I tried to make light-hearted jokes as the three of us frantically paddled, with not much more than our fingertips, across the deep gutter of water. The setup of the sand banks, meant we couldn’t even catch the whitewater in from the breaking waves, as the water was far too deep to attract swell. Buzzing with adrenaline we finally made it across the water and into the shore break where we could ride whitewash in on our boards. We were all so incredibly relieved to touch the sand and we stood with legs that felt like they were made of jelly. “Holy shit that was so close, that thing was right behind me!”, Michael yelled out through lack of breath. “That had to be seconds away from an attack, I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not seen it”, I responded.

We rushed down the beach to signal the other group of surfers in the water what was out there. Another guy came up to us on the beach and had seen the whole thing. That’s when Michael explained that it was probably a lot bigger than what we thought. “You know those fishing shows, when they go to reel a giant fish in off the back of the boat? It looks tiny from above but then they reel it in and it’s a monster. I don’t reckon it was 10ft I think it was more 15!”. 

Surfing under that blue sky and surrounded in crystal clear water, I wondered how many days in murky surf that these giants were lurking around. By the time we drove home that morning, I think the shark had grown another few feet, the more we contemplated the degree of magnification in the water. When I got to a computer I instantly messaged Paul to let him know what went down. His first response was shock and relief that we all made it out alive, but then joked, “that’s what you get surfing MY wave when I’m not there!”. 

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