After the recent shark attack at Fish Hoek beach, many local swimmers have decided to avoid swimming in the ocean, as the waters around the South Peninsula have become a risky place. For many, the solution is a swimming pool at home, but for the surfers in our area, there is no solution to the constant threat and danger posed by the sharks.

Areas such as Muizenberg and Kommetjie are popular surf spots and, as a result, the surrounding environments are often linked to the laid-back, surf-culture that many of the residents have adopted. Although there has been a lot of publicity surrounding the attack and safety risks, it seems unlikely that local surfers will abandon the beaches. As soon as the beaches were re-opened after the attack, the surfers were back in the water. When asked why they seem so unaffected, many of them refer to statistics. A young surfer remarked: “I am more likely to be killed in a car accident than be eaten by a shark. That doesn’t mean that I stay off the roads.”

There is a common perception that a surfboard acts as a barrier, separating the surfer from the shark, thus making them feel safer. There is no proof to confirm this statement, and the fact that surfers have been attacked by sharks several times in the past, suggests otherwise. Surfers are particularly at risk because they paddle very deep into the ocean and are often far away from other swimmers. They are also more likely to be in the ocean on cloudy days when the water is murky and shark-spotters cannot see beneath the surface of the water.

“Anyone who isn’t scared when they are in the water, doesn’t understand the danger of surfing in the South Peninsula”, says Ryan Smith, a local surfer who has participated in the sport for over 20 years. Although a list of safety precautions has been compiled for swimmers and surfers, Smith reckons that the only thing that will truly help you, is if you are on constant alert when you are in the water. Sharks approach their prey in a sneaky way- the victims do not see them coming until it is too late. Surfers are thus encouraged to stay in groups and to be aware of the area surrounding them. Although experienced surfers may not be too concerned, there is great concern among parents of young children who wish to take part in the sport. Many surfers are concerned that these parents will be hesitant to let their children learn to surf, thus limiting the number of new young surfers in our area. There are local surf schools dedicated to teaching children how to surf, but if parents feel that their child’s safety is at risk, these businesses will lose out on clients.

It is very difficult to determine whether or not the shark attack will affect the number of people participating in surfing in the South Peninsula. Although the risks involved are great, it seems that people are willing to take those risks if it means doing something that they are passionate about.

Anien Botha

Anien matriculated from Fish Hoek High School in 2006 and is currently doing her honours degree in English Studies at the University of Cape Town. She hopes to pursue a career in journalism after she graduates.

January 2010