Fac­ing up to his fears

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - TIM NEW­MAN

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.’’

RICHARD DAV­I­SON

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.

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