Facing up to his fears
Horowhenua man Barry Watkins got up close and personal with a great white shark on Saturday, nearly 47 years after an attack which almost cost him his life.
As a 16-year-old in 1971, Watkins was mauled by a 4-metrelong great white shark while surfing at St Clair beach in Dunedin.
The encounter left him with a broken surfboard, a large leg gash requiring 90 stitches and a lifelong fear of surfing in Dunedin waters.
Now 63 and living in Horowhenua, Watkins finally got to see a great white shark in the water again, on a trip with Shark Dive New Zealand sailing out of Bluff, in Southland.
‘‘Going out in the boat, I got really apprehensive and thought ‘what the heck am I doing this for’,’’ Watkins said.
‘‘I got the same feeling when I was getting into my wetsuit, but once I got into the cage and the first shark came past, it was all excitement and just a tremendous thrill to be honest.’’
This time around, Watkins got to see three sharks from the safety of the shark cage.
‘‘We went out in the morning, managed to get three sharks of different sizes around the boat. They hung around most of the day, and we got to see them all, and it was quite exceptional.
‘‘They were all great whites ... there was a big fella who was 4-plus metres long, he filled up the whole view out of the cage.’’
This time around though, Watkins said there was no fear.
‘‘Back then I was in the water with a shark that was feeding.
‘‘Here I was inside a protected cage, and it was just a matter of taking in how wonderful these things are.
‘‘It just impresses me how incredibly lucky I was to escape back then ... I’m amazed after seeing these things, how clever and quick they are, that more people around the southern coastline aren’t being attacked by them.’’
Going face to face with animal which had attacked him was always on Watkins’ bucket list, but it wasn’t until a stroke last year that he was motivated to do it. ‘‘I’ve been putting it off, but I have to do it.
‘‘Not many of us that have survived get a chance to do something like this.’’
The attack on Watkins was on of five great white attacks in the space of seven years off the Dunedin coast. Three of them were fatal.
It was thought the attacks could have been the work of a ‘‘rogue shark’’, although Watkins said he isn’t so sure.
‘‘Who knows? That’s something I’ve never really had a theory on, because I just don’t know.’’
Barry Watkins, who was attacked by a great white shark near Dunedin 47 years ago, went back down south to take part in a shark dive, left.