By Derek Rielly
“There are sharks everywhere, there’s a lot more than I thought.”
Yeah, you’ve heard of Esperance, place with the prettiest white sand beaches in the world and water so blue you’d swear some deity had been a little too heavy on the saturation slider.
Also, and as you know, heavy on the Great White traffic.
In October last year, a local surfer Andrew Sharpe was taken whole by a Great White while shredding a joint called Kelpies. A few years earlier, teenage surfer Laticia Brouwers died in front of her family after being hit by a Great White in 2017; same place Sean Pollard, 23, had an arm and another hand bitten off by a Great White in 2014 and a few clicks away from where diver Gary Johnson was killed by a White in January, 2020.
The state’s premier, channelling Marie Antoinette, said at the time, “There’s always a risk when you go in the water.”
(After being told the peasants were starving Dauphine Marie Antoinette said, “If there’s no bread why don’t they eat brioche?”)
Local port worker and keen diver and filmer James Hooper (@roadimtravelling) was in Lucky Bay, in the Cape Le Grand National Park there just south-east of Esperance, readying for a dive when he sent his drone up to spot for sharks. And by sharks, Whites, not the myriad other mostly harmless species that inhabit this gorgeous stretch of Southern Ocean.
“Last week we saw what was probably a White, four metres long (13-feet), then another one the night before,” says Hooper.
The bird goes up and Hooper sees a ten-foot shark, which looks a helluva lot like a Great White from above, following a couple of spearfishos.
“The chick I was with, Simone (@troopy_travellers), who’s a marine biologist, took off and legged it,” says Hooper, who flew the drone low over the swimmers and dipped its wings to warn ‘em that there was a shark. “She had to run a k and a half (one mile) to warn ‘em. Sharks are so stealth they had no idea what was going on. There’s nothing you can do you’re fucking helpless.”
As Hooper watched, the spearfisho got out of the water, then went back in solo.
“I thought he was done and dusted, so why is he swimming back out? You see the shark watching him and following him. Then the guy sees the shark…”
And, here, Italian Riccardo Trebbi (@riccardo_wmc) who was equipped with a GoPro on his goggles and who was with his girlfriend Jenny (@tutubirdie), on her first foray into the spear game, takes up the story.
“I saw the drone flying really low, swinging left and right trying to tell us something. I didn’t think too much of it and was about to flip him (the bird). I went back in the water, then saw the shark. I thought, let him swim past, no drama, but as he swims past me he turns to me. Fuck! What do I do now! A friend of mine told me to poke ‘em on the nose with the spear or if you’re surfing, punch ‘em on the nose. I tried to poke it and it opens its mouth and had a bite of the spear. It wasn’t going away. After a while it gave up and swam away.”
An examination of the footage revealed that while it looked like a White from above it was, likely, a Dusky Whaler, a vaguely dangerous fish but one that ain’t got a rep for hitting humans.
Still, as Hooper says, you might wanna keep a bird in the air when diving or surfing round these parts.
“They’re fucking everywhere,” says Hooper, who is new to the drone game. There are a lot more than I thought.”
By Chas Smith
Take every present.
Children fall out of belief in the great Santa Claus at some point in their early lives due the theoretical impossibility of what he does. The energy it must take to fly around the world, following night, delivering presents etc. and never recover, Santa becoming a cute little meme, but has no adult re-checked their lost faith in light of the equally great Laird Hamilton?
Oh the big wave icon, superfood scion has defied aging for the past 50-years by jumping into ice water and drinking various forms of turmeric.
Santa lives in the land of ice baths. Turmeric grows in Hawaii.
1 + 1 = Santa does Laird’s XPT training and gets the dang job done.
David Lee Scales and I discussed this truth and became angry at the World Surf League, amongst other things, on the most recent podcast.
I am in Italy.
And in all sincerity, merry merry merry Christmas to you all.
Open this present later.
By Chas Smith
Flipping the script.
It is Christmas morning in Cortina, Italy and beautiful. Snow on ground, church bells ringing and I must get to the slopes but before I do, I would like to leave you with a loving new profile of Kai Lenny by the great Daniel Duane.
Duane is an accomplished author, having written one of my very favorite surf books Caught Inside. The piece is in the technology magazine Wired and likely very good but I will have to read later as the mountain is calling.
Here’s a paragraph.
Hearing Lenny talk about this in person, I could see his appeal to the Zuckerbergs of the world. The nearest cultural antecedent to Lenny—the other obvious choice for a billionaire’s water-sport man crush—was Lenny’s own childhood hero, Maui big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton. But Hamilton was the living archetype of the blond, muscle-bound surfer-god, with giant shoulders and cold green eyes—and therefore too reminiscent of the high school bully who pushes around the budding computer genius before the latter flips the script and becomes richer than God.
Lenny, by contrast, reads more like the protagonist in an extreme-sports version of Revenge of the Nerds, where the dorky kid from a loving family, abused in adolescence by the popular boys, grows up to become a better athlete than any of them, and way better looking.
By Ben Marcus
A lonely death.
A bodyboarder has been killed by a shark, likely a Great White, on Christmas Eve morning at a San Luis Obispo County spot near Morro Bay called The Pit, an open beachbreak less than a mile north of Morro Rock.
Most of the information comes from Facebook posts.
According to Jennifer Little, no one witnessed the attack, and the boydboarder’s body and board were found by surfers:
“Fatal Shark attack at the rock in Morro Bay on Christmas eve. Very sad Surfers found the body. Sheriff’s were in the pit parking lot going car to car trying to figure out who the victim was based on cars still parked.”
At 1:17 PM, the Morro Bay Police Department issued a press release that wasn’t much more illuminating:
This stretch of beach is no stranger to shark sightings and attacks.
In September of 2015, a shark sighting cleared 70 people out of the water tout suite. This was one day after a 72-hour clearance order was issued four days after 54-year-old surfer Eleanor Dempsey was attacked by a shark around 10:15 AM at Morro Strand State Beach, according to a news article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:
Dempsey said she had been in the water about 35 minutes when she saw the shark approach her about 2 feet underwater. “First I thought it was a dolphin and I thought, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ ” she said. “And he kind of landed on my board. Then I realized he had taken a chunk. And I was, like, that’s not what dolphins do.”
Dempsey estimated the shark was 7 or 8 feet long and as big around as a stout man.”
More as it comes.
By Derek Rielly
“BeachGrit has been a big part of Sean’s surf journey, it gave him a place to relax, a sense of community and connectedness with the ocean.”
(Editor’s note: In April, the BeachGrit writer and below-the-line commenter, Dr Sean Mitchell aka Offrocker, died of colon cancer. He was thirty-six. I couldn’t let the year pass without remembering his contribution to BeachGrit and to surfing. Hence a repeat of story below.)
In March, Sean’s wife Michelle wrote to tell me he was in a hospice, that his time was short.
“I just want to let you know that BeachGrit has been such a big part of Sean’s surf journey, it gave him a place to relax, a sense of community, and connectedness with the ocean, even if he can’t physically immerse himself in it. Thank you for creating such a great community.”
Sean’s contribution to BeachGrit was profound.
Read, Schmaltz: Surfer with Cancer Gets Brief Hit-Out in Ocean, “Some moments transcend all the suffering in the world!”
“Once again, in the lineup I felt like order had returned, a return to normality for a few short hours.
So I’m back in hospital this week. More complications.
The waves of samsara keep crashing.
This week it’s a fever, two days in hospital on hardcore antibiotics until they can rule out blood poisoning.
Three weeks ago, a threatened blood clot on the lungs.
Last week an allergic reaction to a new drug and a pustular rash.
These are all minor bumps in the road.
I’m looking forward to getting back out there already.
Maybe I’ll see you, you can’t miss me. I’m THAT kook, ecstatic to make it out the back on a small day, huffing and puffing like a steam train and grinning like a maniac.”
And his last story Quit-Lit in the Face of Cancer: Reflections on my Last Surf Ever (Maybe) sure did hit the buttons, everyone but Sean-y weepy.
“Why, at this time, do I even care enough to write an article for the Grit degenerates?
Because I learned something invaluable on my last surf that I want to share with the quitters. An ethic you won’t find espoused in the sanitised corpo-surf culture, an attitude you won’t find in the hearts of those that wade around in the shorebreak between the flags.
And that’s the reality that no-one gives a fuck in the lineup. I got backpaddled by smiling hipsters on twins. I got dropped in on by murfers on logs. I got shoulder hopped by aggressive entitled adolescents unaware that their post-grom transition is complete and they are now legitimately bottom of the foodchain, no longer protected by minority.
That day was just like every other day, except it was my last surf for the foreseeable future and maybe forever.
It has given me reassurance that the world will go on, with or without me. Everywhere else I go, I’m surrounded by crying relatives, well-meaning do gooders who “have just heard the news, I’m so so sorry.”
We miss you, brother.
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By Derek Rielly