Early on the morning of August 16, 2020, Dylan* paddled out alone for a morning surf at an isolated beachbreak on Victoria’s southwest coast. Turns out he wasn’t alone. The account of what happened next was recorded by a mate later that night over beers. Dylan was reluctant for the story to be published but later agreed. The way he managed to survive might be something other surfers needed to hear.
“It’s just… like I said before, I never read shark stories. Last week I’ll tell you what happened, which is weird. I was sitting there reading one of them, reading about that guy in WA who got attacked by the shark. That last one. He survived. So, I read it and I’ve gone down to have a beer and have a look at the surf late in the afternoon. I was down the beach and a mate of mine paddled out at five o’clock. He’s another nutter like me who surfs by himself, but he was out with two other guys, two younger guys, builders. Next thing, they’re all up on the beach. They’d had a shark swimming around them, a seven gill, one of them really inquisitive ones tangled in their legropes.
The last week or two I’ve just been getting cockier and cockier, surfing further and further by myself but feeling comfortable though, you know? Surfing outside banks and paddling across gutters between them. Surfing by myself… no one else. You’ve always got that thought in the back of your mind about sharks, you know, but the ultimate nightmare is just what fucking unfolded.
So, I’ve been surfing all this week. Really good waves and it’s been overcast. And just like the water’s that steel grey colour. That’s why great whites are that colour, they’re just so camouflaged. They’re that colour. A lot of times I open my eyes when I’m duck diving and I just look at that water and sort of like… there’s shades of water… and it’s the same shades. You got that lighter sandy bottom and on top you’ve got that darker blue, just like a great white.
Anyway, I’ve been out there for two waves. It wasn’t bad. I’d had two cracking waves and then I got my third wave and I just flicked off and sort of in the back of my vision, I just sort of got this, like, swirl, you know? Like sort of some movement. I was paddling, I think I’d taken about two paddles and I just looked over my shoulder and probably where that window is over there, it just came into vision. I just sat up on my board and thought, what the fuck is this? It was just like, I was sort of in awe, just like, fuck, look at the size of this thing. It’s sticking out of the water about four foot. You know, it was sorta like watching one of those doccos when you can see them as clear as day cruising around the boat.
So he came into view and I was calm and then he went around and he’s just done a full circle around me. I got up on my board, sat on my board but right at the back, nearly on the fins and I had this hand out, so the board was sorta like a spear, pointing down five inches under the water. I tried to get as much board as I could between me and him. Then I just used my feet to sort of steer myself around as he was circling me. I kept the board as still as I could and kept it pointed toward him. I just sat as still as I could, you know.
I was just fully watching him. I could just see him, seeing all the fins and everything. And as he sorta went out further, he became a big black blob. Then he came back into vision and I’m thinking, he’s just gonna cruise me and then he’s going to go. This is going to be all right. So he just went around me three times and I just wouldn’t take my eyes off him. He was going around and around. And then, um… [pauses] I was like, fuck, it just seemed like it was going on for 10 minutes or something. But I’m sort of like, I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to be all right. Like, I was calm. I dunno, it was just adrenaline but I wasn’t freaking. I just knew that if I paddled that was the wrong thing to do. I just had to stay put, and he was just cruising around me. I can’t remember the order here, but he fucking disappeared. Where is he? Where is he?
He’s gone down really deep and I thought… [pauses] that’s when I thought, fuck, he’s going to hit me here. My fucking senses went into overdrive. I’m sitting on my board and my vision is just going around 360. I knew he was going to come but I couldn’t see him. And then I just looked over my shoulder and he was coming out of the deep and he came right up beside me and rolled on his belly. I could have touched the side of his pectoral fin. His pectoral fin was like… my surfboard was 7’2” and it was half of that. I could have just poked him but I didn’t. As he came up, he sorta just rolled over. I was just looking at this eyeball that was like about that round, like a lawn bowl, it was black or like, purple… just like the devil’s eye. It was just that black. And I could see his teeth. His mouth was open. I could just see all the undercarriage. One thing that’s stood in my mind is this scratch on his belly. It wasn’t like a heavy scar, but it was like a definite white line six or eight inches long. I knew it was a great white because he was that big, you know. My board’s 7’2” and when it came up and sort of rolled beside me, it was like a small bus going past. I put it between 18 and 20 foot. But even when he came up and eyeballed me, I still thought at that stage I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to be all right.
But after he rolled he went down and then out to sea and disappeared and I knew what he was doing. I just knew he was going out further to turn around and come at me again. I thought fuck, you know, he’s coming in hard this time. There was a lull and I’m thinking, fuck.
There was a wave coming, but I knew I wasn’t going to catch it. But I thought this is my only chance and I knew he was getting really interested, you know, that’s what he was doing. He was going out for his second run at me. And so I thought, well, this is it. I’ve got to make a move. I thought this is my only chance, so I started paddling hard. I’m paddling for this wave, pretty hard strokes, but I missed it. As soon as I missed the wave, I spun around and where that back fence is over there, the water was all swirling. He was picking up momentum starting to come at me again. I couldn’t see him but I could see the water swooshing. I just spun the board back around in his direction and pointed the board down at him. He shot out to the side of me and went out to sea again.
That’s when I really fucking started to lose my shit. This is it. But I was sort of in this… you know how in car crashes everything slows down? It was sorta like it had gone into that sort of moment. And then I thought, well, you know, I’ve had a pretty good… [pauses] I’m pretty content. If this is how it’s gonna end, this is how it’s gonna end.
So he went out but then there was like a good-sized set where that back fence is. I started paddling, like really put my chest over the front of my board and dig in for 10 hard paddles. I wasn’t going to miss this one. I’ve caught it and laid on my stomach but I was up the front of the board and a little too far forward. The whitewash was sort of as high as this roof and it engulfed me. I nosedived. I couldn’t believe it. I came off in the whitewash upside-down and I was just thinking he’s going to hit me underwater here. I was trying to get to my board as quick as I could. I found my board underwater and I jumped up on it and then I looked and there was a whitewash even closer than that back wall and it hit me.
I was about this far from the shore – to the back of Bill’s shed – but I had to get through this gutter. It was a deep sort of gutter, but the wave had enough momentum and I was laying down and I had a pretty flat-rockered board and skimmed across it. At the shorebreak you normally get off and just wait to wash up but I rode the board straight up onto the sand like you drive a boat up onto a beach. I just turned around and started fucking yelling and screaming. Woooooo! I just had to let it all out. Did that all just happen? I was on a high. I could have run up the beach with two people on my shoulders.
Like I said, I thought I was going to get out of it at first but then I missed that wave and it went to… I’m not, this is it. In all that I’d almost forgotten I’d looked to shore and seen someone up there checking it and just thought, well, I’ll just try and get their attention so if I do get bitten in half, maybe they’ll find the other half.
If I never got that wave, he was definitely going to come in and have a see what I was. I think because I had the board like a spear, when he went up and eyeballed me, he’s like, well, it’s not a seal. Someone said if it was a juvenile he probably would have come in and just smashed me, but he was big. When he went by me, it was like a small bus going by me. Like it was as long as your car, no worries.
When I lost sight of him, that’s when I really felt – fuck – he’s going down. I don’t know if it was adrenaline but I wasn’t panicking. There was just nothing I could do. I had to deal with it. I had to ride this out. I knew if I turned and paddled I’d lose sight of him and I wasn’t gonna make it to shore. I knew it. I knew I had to get a wave but they weren’t coming, you know? So the first bit where he circled me seemed like it went for five minutes or something. But then when he came up and rolled… even when he came up and rolled on me I just kicked into survival. Luckily I’ve been sober.
Two things saved me. Like, the vision was so clear. Like a dog, you know, you take your eye off it and he’ll come from behind and bite you on the heels. So I knew just to keep following him and that’s what I did. And I think that saved me. If I paddled, if I turned my back and paddled on him, he would’ve thought the prey’s moving. He would have just smashed me to bits. He was going to get that board, down his throat first but I was being fully hunted and there was nothing I could do.
I’ve had 50-odd shark encounters. I’ve had them come at me doing ocean paddles and I’ve seen plenty of eight-footers but this was a whole new… this was like, yeah, this was like an encounter with a great white without the cage. I was amazed how I just stayed calm. Like, I just had to hold my ground. I’ve always said I’ve never seen a great white, I don’t know what I’d do. I suppose I do now.
*Name changed for anonymity