Feature

No Man’s Land

Into the predation cycle with white sharks and orcas in Gansbaai. Excerpted from the new issue of TSJ.

The sky was gray and reflected in the water. The morning was bitterly cold and foreboding, a day better suited to sitting around a fire. The offshore wind carried a bite and the swell surged. I was petrified.

I took my 7’2″ out of the truck with trembling hands. It was a great board—thick and fast, made for the kind of big, hollow waves I was looking at. At that moment, though, I hated it. Its existence removed all excuses. The only way out was self-admitted cowardice, which I couldn’t face.

The wave itself was a left-hand slab, throwing out barrels. It was far offshore and the approach entailed a crawling paddle over thick weed, then a long slog in a deep-water channel before alighting next to the reef. While the swell looked a very heavy 6- to 8-feet, it wasn’t the waves that had me so terrified. It was that this slab was located along the sharkiest stretch of coast in South Africa, near one of the most notorious white shark cage diving locations in the world.

The slab was located along the sharkiest stretch of coast in South Africa, near one of the most notorious white shark cage diving locations in the world. A 5-year study using dorsal-fin data was able to identify 532 individual white sharks in the surrounding waters. I launched into the weed on my board, the cold ocean presumably teeming with predators.

Dyer Island sits five nautical miles off Gansbaai, which is in the Overberg District Municipality of the Western Cape in South Africa. The area is home to one of the densest known great white shark populations. According to the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which conducted a 5-year study of the local population numbers using dorsal-fin data and a program called “Darwin,” they were able to identify 532 individual white sharks in the surrounding waters. The channel running between Dyer Island and neighboring Geyser Rock is known as “Shark Alley” and is renowned as one of the best places on Earth to study great white behavior. Nearby, visitors from all over the world pay top dollar to dive into the ocean (whilst behind bars, of course) to view these creatures up close. YouTube videos of these charters go viral whenever an aggressive encounter occurs, attracting more people to the town.

I launched into the weed on my 7’2″, the cold ocean presumably teeming with white sharks. My heart was thumping as my friend Lash led the way. He was calm, Zen-like about the situation, focused on the excellent waves that were booming through. All I could think of was how this seemed like the least intelligent thing I had done in more than 30 years of surfing…

 

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