Adventure - - Adventure//Close Encounters >> -

Sacha Specker has spent his life in and around the wa­ter and com­ing from South Africa is well aware that he shares the ocean with one of na­ture’s most feared crea­tures, the Great White. How­ever noth­ing can quite pre­pare you for a close en­counter and Sacha takes us through what it was like to ex­pe­ri­ence that first hand…

"I was surf­ing a pop­u­lar spot in the south penin­sula of Cape Town, en­joy­ing the 6 foot beachie on the tail end of a pump­ing swell that had been de­liv­er­ing for a few days al­ready. Af­ter a long left, I made my way back into the lineup of about 12 guys and as I sat on my board, catch­ing my breath and scan­ning the hori­zon for the next set, a young surfer nearby let out a blood cur­dling yelp, stut­ter­ing the word, "Shark! There is a shark right be­hind you!"

I spun around all the mean­time not want­ing to be­lieve his words and ex­pect­ing to see a seal or what­ever it was he saw a fair dis­tance away, but my en­tire ex­is­tence was fun­nelled into a tiny spec of time in the cur­rent re­al­ity that saw me look­ing at +\- 3m Great White an arm’s length be­hind me. It seemed to change course at the very last sec­ond, dip­ping down, leav­ing a small bow wave and me in an eddy of swirling wa­ter. Al­though phys­i­cally calm, I was scared for my life. I had played this sce­nario through in my head so many times and al­ways saw my­self hav­ing full con­trol and know­ing what to do. It def­i­nitely did not feel like it now. I was on full auto pi­lot, driven by in­stinct. Fists clenched, heart rate head­ing to­wards 210 bpm in my throat and my eyes prob­a­bly look­ing like din­ner plates, all I could do is watch the shark arc be­neath me and sur­face, cir­cling me, dor­sal and cau­dal fin well out the wa­ter. It was mov­ing slow, seem­ingly in­quis­i­tive and de­ter­mined to get a good look at me brush­ing my feet twice with its pec­toral fins while giv­ing me a front row seat of its jet black eye and de­fined line sep­a­rat­ing its mono­chrome grey up­per and pearly white belly. All I could do was try keep up with its head and fac­ing it as I swiv­elled around with it a num­ber of times.

A friend of mine (Mike Sch­le­bach) who was one of the guys in the wa­ter that day some­how con­vinced some of the oth­ers to join him as he too pad­dled to­ward me with the in­ten­tion of creat­ing safety in num­bers.

It worked. As I be­came less of an in­di­vid­ual and more a part of a closely packed group of surfers, the shark left the sur­face, dip­ping be­neath Mike and fi­nally lost in­ter­est, mov­ing off into the "Great White green" South At­lantic. Col­lec­tively we pad­dled to­ward shore, calmly but swiftly, never feel­ing like the threat was com­pletely gone. Now none of us could see it. It was al­most worse. Pad­dling about half­way to shore, the first wave came through, break­ing well be­yond us and en­gulf­ing ev­ery­body in white­wa­ter and fer­ry­ing us to­ward the beach. Only once my feet were on the dry sand did I feel com­plete relief. Shaken and nerves shot, I pulled my suit half­way down, took my leash off and lay in the sand for a while, just letting it all sink in.

I had been bumped be­fore. It was a while ago and it all hap­pened much quicker. I never saw the shark com­ing. It hit me like a steam train, but no bite, only a bump, thrashed around me and then as quick as it ap­peared it was gone. This time was dif­fer­ent in so many ways. There were count­less sce­nar­ios that could have ended in count­less ver­sions of dis­trib­ute chaos. But noth­ing hap­pened. That was all that mat­tered at that point.

As we all re­cov­ered on the beach, one of the guys in the wa­ter liked the look of my board and asked me if he could have a look at it. It was at that point I re­al­ized that it was the same board I was rid­ing dur­ing my pre­vi­ous shark en­counter. While he was look­ing down the rail of my board, hold­ing it un­der his arm and siz­ing it up, I asked him, "do you like it?" He replied. "It looks su­per fun and went re­ally well for you out there be­fore our ses­sion was cut short. I love it." To which I replied, “it's yours! Let me just take my leash off. You can even keep the fins" I wanted noth­ing to do with this board any­more.

He had to carry two boards back home, but I en­joyed the 25 minute walk back to my car with only my leash in hand, suck­ing in each breath like it was my first and life had never tasted any sweeter. I was in the wa­ter the next day, en­joy­ing pump­ing waves at my lo­cal with good friends. I felt fine. al­though i was still pro­cess­ing it all, I man­aged to en­joy the surf. It only re­ally started to take its toll on my a few days later and now, 2 weeks down the line, emo­tions roller coaster, highs and lows as i play it through over and over in my head, but it's all part of the process and in time i think i will grow to ap­pre­ci­ate my in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence with one of the plan­ets most feared and revered apex preda­tors.

i can't thank mike and the other gents who against all odds, mus­tered up into su­per hu­mans and changed the out­come of that day. In what way ex­actly, we will never know, but I will for ever be in­debted to them. "

“al­though phys­i­cally calm, i was scared for my life. i had played this sce­nario through in my head so many times and al­ways saw my­self hav­ing full con­trol and know­ing what to do. it def­i­nitely did not feel like it now. i was on full auto pi­lot, driven by in­stinct.”

im­age by Aye­sha Makim

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