Erwin Mccullough was surfing 40 minutes north of the fatal attack on Tadashi Nakahara at Ballina in New South Wales, on February 9th, when he was chased to the beach by a great white.He returned to his car to hear of the tragic news on the radio that Tadashi had lost both legs to a white two hours earlier. Whether it was the same shark or not is impossible to say but this is one surfer who sure is happy to be around to tell the tale.
Can you describe when you first noticed the shark?
Well I first spotted the shark probably 40 minutes and again 10 minutes before I saw it right in front of me. The first time I saw something about 100m to my left and thought was that a shark? And went: nah you're just thinking too much. The night before the news had reported an attack down at Byron Bay where a guy was bitten in the back, about 30 minutes south from where I was surfing. The second sighting was to my right again, about 100m from me. Then I knew something was not right, thinking: well it’s not dolphins they should have come up for air by now.
What did it do?
Just then it was about 10m to the left and in front of me. The water was like glass, clear and perfect. I saw him so clearly as if he was in a shark tank at SeaWorld, but this time I was in it too. My heart felt like it stopped for a moment and then it started racing, I was going: shit shit shit in my head, thinking: that’s a shark F@#K! Within seconds the shark was coming straight at me, it all happened so fast. The board was not quite sitting up and I pulled up the nose of my board with my feet still dangling in the water as it motored towards me.
Just as the shark was 1/2m away it turned hard and fast to the right and started heading back out to sea. It was then I started thinking what is going to happen and I have got to get out of here as calmly as I can, wishing for a wave to come but the ocean went flat. I thought: great, not now Huey, please send me a wave to get in. Then the shark turned again and headed straight back at me this time 10m to the right and in front of me.
I was going shit shit shit in my head going that’s a shark F@#K!It circled me one-and-half times before slipping under me and again back out to sea to my right. The whole time it circled I kept watching with my legs and hands out of the water as if I were sky diving – not knowing what to do if it went for me and thinking: shit that’s a big shark I would fit inside no problem. After it stopped circling, he went back out to sea at what looked like about 10 to 15m. It seemed as though it was heading a bit further out this time so I thought I'd better make a move, it was now or never.
I turned as easy as I could (thinking, stay as calm as possible) and started paddling back to shore – all the while looking behind me thinking in my head: don't come back. Just then, there it was again, about 5 metres behind me, following me as I paddled in. Freaking out, I kept paddling whilst constantly looking behind at it. Then as I was about 10m from the beach a little wave finally came my way. I lost sight of the shark then, thinking: it’s still there just get to the beach.
What were your thoughts at this point?
All this time my thoughts were about my son and partner (and the house that we are about to start building) thinking: what are they going to do? There were heaps of things running through my head.
And when you were back on the beach what did you feel?
Safe on the beach I was thinking:
For a few days after I wasn't overly keen to get back in the watershit that was full on, whilst looking to see if I could still spot it, it but it had vanished. The adrenaline at this point was pumping hard. My mind was going 100 miles an hour. Luck was on my side right now and I thought: holy shit I'm still alive. I raced to my car to tell someone quick.
This was shortly after the attack further south, how far away was your encounter?
It was only when I reached the car I heard on the radio a confirmed report about a Japanese guy who had lost both his legs from the waist down by a great white two hours earlier... about 40mins south of where I was surfing.
Has it put you off going in the water?
For a few days after I wasn't overly keen to get back in the water. And in the week following my encounter there were other sightings and reports of shark activity up and down the coast. It’s been stated that it’s probably due to the warming waters and the large amounts of bait fish in the water at the moment.
Would you consider wearing one of the shark bands / shark shields or funky black and white wetsuits in the future?
I'd definitely consider a shark band. Feel free to send one over if you like! My mate (after my encounter) has just bought himself one.
What's the talk been like about these attacks? Do people feel like it is a trend or just a cluster of incidents?
The talk is as I mentioned, people believe the attacks have been a result of the feeding patterns in the water due to the warm waters. We've also seen large amounts of jelly fish and spawn floating on the surface of the water in the area. Maybe this is a result of global warming? Let’s hope it’s just a cluster of incidents.