Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

Captain Paul Watson and Surfing Champion Kelly Slater at Noosa in AustraliaCaptain Paul Watson and Surfing Champion Kelly Slater at Noosa in Australia
photo: Sea Shepherd
Surfers are tough, courageous, passionate, unique, and enthusiastic athletes.

There really is no sport more challenging and more rewarding than surfing. It’s not just a recreational activity. It borders on the spiritual, and most importantly it builds an intimacy with the sea that is far more profound than scuba diving or yachting although it remains a close second to free diving.

I love surfing and I admire surfers. I have the honour of counting Kelly Slater as a friend and I’ve worked with Laird Hamilton. With World-class skier Peter Brown I helped to produce an environmental film in the Nineties on surfing and snow-boarding called Blue Rage. I have also had the very great pleasure of working with Legendary Australia surfer Dave "Rasta" Rastovich on his film "Mind in the Waters."

I haven’t done much surfing myself in recent years but I was drawn to it in the mid-Sixties. The Seventies and Eighties saw me on the beaches in South Africa, Southern California and Hawaii and although I never surfed the twisted ruins off Venice Beach in the early Seventies, I was there to watch some of the most daring surfers to ever ride the waves.

In the early Seventies, Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk started up a surf shop called Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Productions. One of the original Z-girls was Peggy Oki who is now a passionate artist defending the whales. Their legendary adventures were made into the film Dog Town and Z-Boys narrated by Sean Penn.

Surfing requires discipline and skill but most importantly it requires passion and courage.

Unfortunately in recent years surfing has attracted a lesser breed of surfers. Fortunately this lesser breed are a very small minority. Unfortunately like whiners anywhere they are loud and as such attract the attention of another breed of low-life opportunists called unpopular politicians.

Put whining surfers together with opportunistic unpopular politicians and you get hysteria.

And that is what is happening on the beaches of Australia, and Western Australia especially. It is also happening in La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean where we’ve come across the most cowardly surfers on the globe.

Really, who would we think would be the most courageous athlete, a surfer or a golfer?

Surfers of course, BUT there are a few surfers who have less courage than your average golfer.

Why?

Consider that the average number of people killed by sharks on the planet every year is five and then consider that the number of golfers killed by lightening is the United States alone last year was eight.

Eleven people were also struck by lightening while lying or walking on the beach last year in the United States.

Which means of course that golfing and sun-bathing are more dangerous activities than surfing with sharks.

I have swum and surfed with sharks. I’ve been in the water with Hammerheads, Bulls, Great Whites, Tigers, Nurses, Lemons, Blacktips, Whitetips, Cookiecutters, Blues and Makos and not once was I ever attacked.

In fact I found the experience exhilarating.

See, the thing is that when you put on a wet suit and straddle a surfboard you look like a seal from the point of view of a shark and sometimes, very rarely mind you, a curious shark mistakes a surfer for a seal. The result is an exploratory bite, sometimes fatal but very rarely has a surfer been actually eaten.

Ostrichs, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, horses, snakes, dogs and mosquitoes kill more people than sharks but we don’t hear the same level of hysteria as we do about sharks.

The reason is the combination of hysterical craven surfers with opportunistic sleazy politicians and that is the case with Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett.

Of course Steven Spielberg did not help with his over the top drama about a serial killing shark put together with spooky music.

Western Australia’s Premier Colin Barnett is your typical right-wing anti-environmentalist, corporate-whoring, climate-change-denying-shark-hating -politician.

Last year he tried to destroy the nursery waters of the Humpback whales and having failed to contribute to the killing of whales he is now turning his attention to destroying sharks.

Sharks and surfers can co-exist, for the oceans' sake they mustSharks and surfers can co-exist, for the oceans' sake they must  photo: Sea ShepherdThe Great White shark is an endangered species. There are more Bengal tigers and Panda bears in the world than there are Great Whites and it is unlawful to kill them. They are a protected species listed with CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna).

Thus Premier Barnett is abusing his powers as Premier to openly and flagrantly violate an international convention and thus international law.

History is full of politicians using scape-goats to bolster their declining popularity and Premier Barnett is a classic scape-goater.

Fortunately there are surfers speaking up in defence of the sharks. Samuel Carmody of Western Australia recently wrote an excellent article on the current controversy and reminded surfers about what surfing is all about.

Surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark in Hawaii yet nonetheless is a shark defender. That’s because she is a real surfer who understands that surfing is so much more than balancing oneself on a board.

Surfing is understanding the sea and feeling the vibrations of the ocean and realising that this wave is literally the pulse of a living eco-system that makes it possible for any of us to be alive.

Any surf rider who does not feel the sea is not a surfer and any surf rider who does not respect the living diversity of the ocean is not a surfer. They are just craven and arrogant posers.

Mountain climbers and skiers don’t stop climbing because of the possibility of an avalanche. Sailors don’t stop sailing because of the possibility of a storm. Do surfers need to eradicate sharks so they can feel all nice, safe and cosy in the water?

I mean who the hell needs to, or wants to feel nice and safe in the water? I sure as hell don’t. I like the fact that there are big predators in the sea. It keeps me humble. I don’t fear sharks. I respect them. And I also appreciate the role they play in maintaining the ecological diversity of our oceans.

For 450 million years sharks as the apex predators in the sea have shaped and molded evolution in the sea. The speed, the camouflage and the behaviour of fish is the direct result of adaptation to a sea full of sharks.

But along comes us hominid land dwellers with our superior technology of hooks, harpoons, nets and drum lines to kill what we do not understand simply because of an unreasonable fear.

I don’t fear sharks. What I fear is an ocean without sharks, an ocean in chaos, an ocean of diminishment, an ocean that is dying.

If the sharks die, the oceans die and if the oceans die, humanity dies.

By killing the sharks, we are killing ourselves.

The destruction of these lethal drum-lines would be an act of self preservation.

 

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