This paddlers a shark magnet
If you are afraid of sharks, don’t come paddling with me! After my most recent visit from a man In a grey suit, it was made clear to me that sharks seem to seek me out.
I have only been paddling long distance skis since 2010, but in that short time I have racked up 9 significant shark “events”. Only two were scary, one being when my paddling partners boat was attacked!
In all fairness I do paddle in a location well known for sharks. But then my fellow paddlers seem to very seldom cross paths with these magnificent animals. Am I just more observant, or are my paddling shorts marinated in tuna blood? Perhaps I am just lucky (unlucky?). I guess I should have seen this coming. During my kite surfing days, I collided with, not one, not two but three unlucky and rather startled sharks. It was not pleasant body dragging back to my board knowing what had just caused my crash. Although, in each case, the shark got such a fright, I was pretty sure they were long gone.
My first Surfski shark sighting was also my first Surfski downwind. We launched at the Umkomaas river mouth, which is asking for trouble as it’s a known shark hot spot. The surf was challenging but we stayed in the boat and the shark was soon forgotten as we took off on the first run. In 2010 Durban had a significant sardine run and sharks were everywhere. Paddling off the Bluff I met one dorsal fin during this sardine run, that was a fair bit taller than the rail of my boat. I never met its owner but its fair to say he was a significant chap.
My most unnerving meeting, was not the attack as you may expect. Paddling in a double, we rounded the Durban Harbour entrance heading down the coast into the teeth of strong South Wester. Further south a whale carcass was floating about and was being preyed upon by groups of Tiger sharks. As we fought our way through the waves, coming the other way was a massive shark. It was so big I immediately assumed it was a whale shark. It had the whale shark habit of not wavering from its course at all. It had the calm deliberate presence of a muscle bound night club bouncer. As it slowly slid past us, only a few meters away I realized this was no whale shark. This was a 4.5m Tiger shark. I am convinced of its size as I had the chance to measure it against our ski as it passed by. It’s sheer size combined with the stormy state of the sea made this a rather eerie experience.
Perhaps a year later, my training partner and I were heading out to sea into the sea breeze. We must have been a good few kms out to sea of the Bluff. Our topic of conversation, as we paddled, was the terrible damage the Jaws movies had done to a shark’s reputation. As unbelievable as this sounds it’s the honest truth. I had pulled half a boat length ahead and looked back at Rich to continue our conversation. As I did so, a shark hit the tail of his boat with the ferocity and violence of a car crash. He was lifted up out of the water and thrown sideways but somehow manage to stay in the boat. I saw the grey shape hit the tail of his boat and thrash but I could not make out the size or type of shark. It was a one hit wonder and somehow we just knew the shark was gone. We checked out his boat which was quite badly damaged but still functional. Back then I could still match Rich on a downwind but on this day he beat me back to beach by minutes!!
Next up was an easy paddle to the Fairway Can. We launched at Pirates and paddled the 4km out to the can. The sea was alive that day, with fish everywhere. As we neared the can, Phil made the comment that the Fairway can must be a fantastic fish magnet. I was about 20m ahead and turned back to answer him, only to see a 2m Zambezi shark launch clear of the water just behind him, spinning like a top. It was the most amazing site. I thought that was surely a once in a life time sighting, but I was wrong. 3 days ago it happened again.
A group of of us were paddling inside Durban Harbour. We had just crossed the channel and were close to the sand banks that the fisherman stand on, in chest deep water fishing. About 40m from us a 2m Zambie launched a meter clear of the water, again spinning like a top. It had a fish in its mouth and it was clear we had just witnessed a predation. I grew up swimming and sailing in Durban Harbour not really believing the stories about sharks but I am a believer now!
So if you keen to get up and close personal with our denizens of the deep just come join me for a paddle. It’s just a matter of time till the next Johnny comes by for a visit.
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