Shark Attack Survival

Wed, 20 March 2013
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What would you do if you saw a shark attack someone … and then realised it was you? This is what happened to Troy Henri while surfing at Hawston, near Hermanus, on Saturday. Craig Jarvis spoke to him.


Onrus-20130317-00780aMost of us don’t think about it. We prefer to keep those dark thoughts of how we’d deal with a shark locked away somewhere deep and inaccessible, repressed by joyous visions of barrels and sunshine, of white sands and big smiles and stoke.

That is all sweet and fine and dandy until John Shark arrives unexpectedly while you’re surfing and decides he wants to say howzit. To you. Directly. Then you have to think about it. This man had time to think about it. He literally watched a shark attack him.

Troy Henri, originally from Isipingo, has been surfing for close on 40 years. He lives in the Cape now. He surfs Nine Miles and Garbage frequently, so he knows all about sharks. His conditioned response is to paddle in when you see a fin, as every surfer does, pretty much. However, he had a slightly different experience on Saturday afternoon at Hawston near Hermanus.

Guys have been surfing there for years. It gets quite good at times, but it is a fickle wave, and it has a sharky vibe to it. You know the feeling – the kelp looks ominous, and sometimes when you’re sitting out at the back surfing the lefts, it definitely feels like you’re in the thick of a serious buffet. On Saturday, the surf wasn’t even very good, but despite the average conditions, Troy and a mate paddled out, while the rest of his family hung out and started a braai at the bottom car park.

“The waves were closing out and I had been paddling for a few and pulling back, waiting for a good one. I was sitting out there, when the water around me went dark,” said Troy. “I thought it was a shadow from a cloud passing by the sun, so I remember looking up, but there were no clouds.”

Then he saw it. “I looked down and saw the profile of a big shark underneath me, and I realised what was happening, and started paddling towards the beach. The shark was inside of me, under me somewhere, but between me and the beach.”

It was about then that things started to get interesting. “As I was paddling, this tiny little fin appeared next to me. It just got bigger and bigger, as the dorsal fin started rising out of the water. It was to the right of me, cruising past me, going so slowly, heading out to sea. It was so close. At this stage I started getting really scared, you know, all these thoughts start going through your head. My 14-year-old boy was on the beach, and everything was happening so fast.”

The shark swam past, but then the nightmare started. “I checked the shark splash behind me, and do a u-turn, and I was thinking, ‘this can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.’ It was like a dreamy thing, almost like an out-of-body experience as I could actually see a shark attack about to happen. To me. I was thinking “This shark is going to kill me now.”

The shark hit Troy hard from underneath. “It hit me so hard and so fast. It hit me on the left side; hit the board by my hip. I got flung up and rolled over, and the next thing the shark was on top of me. I had my arm wrapped around the tail of the shark. It was like we were hugging each other for a second. We got tangled up in the leash, and the next thing the shark was pulling me under water hard.”

It pulled me under until the leash snapped. I had swallowed so much water in the struggle, and water was rushing up my nose from being pulled under.”

Troy got sucked under the water, still attached to the board that was somehow entangled with the shark. “It pulled me under until the leash snapped. I had swallowed so much water in the struggle, and water was rushing up my nose from being pulled under.”

Troy surfaced. The shark was nowhere to be seen. Neither was his board.

“I was about 80 meters out, maybe more, and I started swimming to the shore without my board, just expecting the shark to hit any second. I swam some freestyle and then I swam backstroke, just to keep my eye out for when it was going to hit, to fight it off if I could. As I came towards the shore I saw something dark in the water but it was a rock, and I remember standing on it, looking out to sea, feeling a bit safer. Probably wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever if it had come back, but for some reason I felt a bit secure on it.”

Troy continued swimming. “I was swimming regularly, not splashing and panicking. I tried to stand a few times, but I was still too deep, so just kept on swimming. It was only when I could stand on the sand did I feel safe again. I was totally numb, from the shock, but I was OK. A few little cuts and stuff. The strangest thing was walking back to my family without a board. ”

Troy was still alive. Shaken, in a bit of a state, but totally unharmed.“ I went for a surf the next day,” said Troy on his rehab process. “I just managed one wave before I came in. It felt strange.”

It was a strange, radical, emotional chain of events, and Troy fully understands that he totally got lucky, got a second chance. It took a day or two for it to sink in, for him to understand the big picture of what could have been.

“Like a miracle bru. Apart from a few scratches I was untouched.”