Jarrod Davis and Nathan Hokin, of Ballina, feel safer surfing along Far North Coast beaches with aerial patrols and drones.
Jarrod Davis and Nathan Hokin, of Ballina, feel safer surfing along Far North Coast beaches with aerial patrols and drones. Marc Stapelberg

Why surfers 'don't want to know' about shark sightings

TWO and a half years after an extremely close encounter with a white shark, a Ballina surfer says he is back in the water but the "eerie" feeling will never leave him.

Jarrod Davis, 22, was one of several local surfers to frankly discuss their thoughts and fears about sharks, two years on from the shocking run of shark attacks which horrified the region.

Jeremy Fox, 16, at Lighthouse Beach near North Wall in Ballina.
Jeremy Fox, 16, at Lighthouse Beach near North Wall in Ballina. Marc Stapelberg

There were plenty of takers for the fun waves on offer yesterday morning at Ballina's North Wall, a renowned magnet for swell - and sharks.

Mr Davis was one of them, but a year ago it was the last place he wanted to paddle out.

"I was always like 'I'm not surfing here'," the 22-year-old said, because of the beach's sharky reputation.

Japanese expat Tadashi Nakahara was killed 800m to the north of the beach off Speed's Reef on February 8, 2015, followed by two near-fatal attacks in July and November of that year, on body boarder Mat Lee and 20-year-old pro surfer Sam Morgan.

Hollywood Surf Supply board shaper Scott Crump at Lighthouse Beach near North Wall in Ballina.
Hollywood Surf Supply board shaper Scott Crump at Lighthouse Beach near North Wall in Ballina. Marc Stapelberg

Mr Davis had his own encounter with a great white while surfing at Suffolk Park in June 2015.

The "huge" shark surfaced within 2m of Mr Davis and he experienced a panic attack which left him breathless. He barely made it into shore and had to be dragged from the water after collapsing in the shallows.

He didn't surf again for three months, and said he would never surf alone again.

"It was kind of one of my worst fears to see one out there," he said.

"It was so close... I looked at its belly and saw the white underside of it."

Now, he is thankful for the daily presence of drones and surveillance helicopters.

"The reality is I don't think it's going to save our lives if a shark comes, but it makes you feel better," he said.

But both him and mate Nathan Hokin are opposed to shark nets, which they believe don't work and needlessly kill marine life.

Other surfers said the nets made them feel safer.

Lifelong Lennox Head local Robert Marcon said he stopped surfing North Wall after the attacks in 2015, but the quality waves lured him and son Riley back.

He said the nets made him feel a "little safer" even though they were just a deterrent from the bigger sharks establishing territory.

"With the helicopter and drones, it's made this beach worth surfing again because it was probably the sharkiest beach of them all," he said.

"Even though people say they (nets) don't work, the statistics are there. Netted beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong have less attacks.

"Bycatch is unfortunate but the numbers aren't bad enough to put human lives at risk, I reckon."

Lennox Head board shaper and Californian expat Scott Crump said nets were "so controversial" you almost don't want to come out on either side".

In the line up, surfers' position on nets is split "50-50", he said.

"The question is, is that (marine life) sacrifice saving anyone?" he asked.

He said while he didn't support a "cull", he didn't understand why sharks were not fished more like every other fish.

He said he used to surf alone but now preferred a few others around. He would never surf Speeds Reef again, even though it's only 800m from North Wall.

High school student Jeremy Fox, 16, said there was still "plenty of talk" about sharks in the line up since 2015.

His mum Justine said she had forbidden him from surfing alone in case he was attacked and there was no one to help.

"I try and keep my anxiety under control to make sure it doesn't impact his enjoyment," she said.

She compared a shark attack to the fear of a terrorist attack - it's the thought that gets to you, however unlikely.

"You try to consider the risk but not overestimate the risk."

The numbers of white sharks in North Coast waters show no sign of decline, with a phenomenal 108 white pointers caught, tagged and released in the 12 months to December last year, mainly under 3m in length.

Helicopter surveillance on weekends, public holidays and school holidays will continue throughout the year, while the second six month shark net trial is expected to wrap up by about June.

Asked how he felt about surfing more than two years since the last serious attack, Ballina surfer Dan Webber said he was back in the water almost daily.

But Mr Webber said he had given up following the social media buzz and fear about shark attacks - even the shark sighting app Dorsal, which records reported sightings as well as broadcasting tagged shark detections by the DPI's network of acoustic listening buoys.

"I think the majority of surfers who surf regularly don't want to know (about shark sightings)," he said.

"The number of sharks that are detected, that's probably a hundredth of the sharks that are out there."

"Every single time you are out there a shark is probably swimming within a kilometre of you."

"It's not worth thinking about."

Mr Webber has purchased a SharkShield deterrent device which sits in the tailpad of his surfboard and creates an electrical field around him extending to about 1m.

"Personally, (now) it feels good.

"Now I'm paddling out in scrappy conditions and staying out longer."

He said the SharkShield "definitely" made him feel more at ease, but added: "you don't want to be complacent."

"I do know that it's not going to stop a Great White Shark in attack mode."

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