SA surfer’s in­cred­i­ble re­cov­ery from great white shark at­tack


SAM Ed­wardes moved to the eastern states in search of safer wa­ters af­ter los­ing a mate to a shark at­tack on Yorke Penin­sula 20 years ago.

To­day, the Ade­laide-born surfer is on the road to re­cov­ery af­ter his own near-death ex­pe­ri­ence with a great white.

SAM Ed­wardes ap­pre­ci­ates the irony.

The ex-Ade­laide school­teacher left South Aus­tralia 20 years ago, in part, be­cause he’d lost a mate to a shark and thought the con­ti­nent’s east coast would be safer for a surfer. But ear­lier this year, his logic took a hit when Ed­wardes only nar­rowly es­caped with his life af­ter a 3m great white shark ripped a chunk out of his left thigh while surf­ing near By­ron Bay, NSW.

“Part of the rea­son I like be­ing up around the east coast is be­cause South Aus­tralia is quite a ‘sharky’ place and we had that death of a friend,’’ he says. “It’s al­ways more en­joy­able surf­ing on the east coast, we didn’t have to worry about that sort of stuff. Which is ironic, isn’t it?’’

Ed­wardes’s brush with the great white was in Fe­bru­ary but he’s back in the surf again, though a bit more care­ful about when and where he puts his board in the water.

Now 42, Ed­wardes grew up in Burn­side. He went to Mar­ry­atville High and com­pleted a com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­gree at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia be­fore head­ing east.

He was back in South Aus­tralia about five years ago, teach­ing agri­cul­tural stud­ies and English at Ur­rbrae Agri­cul­tural High School, be­fore head­ing back to By­ron.

His love of surf­ing be­gan at 14, when he and his mates would travel to Victor Har­bor. They started push­ing fur­ther afield when cars be­came an op­tion. “Once we were able to drive when we were 17, 18, me and my friends surfed al­most al­ways at Yorke Penin­sula and over on the West Coast at Streaky Bay and Cac­tus,’’ he says. Ed­wardes was at Hard­wicke Bay the day his friend Tony Donoghue was killed by a shark in May 1999. But he didn’t see it hap­pen.

“We went over for the week­end – I think there were six of us – and the wind came up so we de­cided we weren’t go­ing to surf any more that day,” Ed­wardes re­mem­bers.

“We all went to the pub ex­cept Tony, who wanted to go out wind­surf­ing.’’

Donoghue wasn’t seen again.

In his re­port, South Aus­tralian Coroner Wayne Chiv­ell found Donoghue’s wet­suit and wind­surf­ing har­ness had both sus­tained dam­age, “con­sis­tent with a shark at­tack”.

Ed­wardes says: “It was re­ally dev­as­tat­ing for all of us and his fam­ily, who we still keep in con­tact with.

“I think all of us were all re­ally un­set­tled and prob­a­bly all a bit rat­tled and anx­ious. It re­ally threw us a bit.”

Ed­wardes was chasing the dawn the morn­ing he en­coun­tered his own great white. He and his mate Dane David­son had wo­ken in the dark, thrown their surf­boards into the car and headed north to Be­longil Beach near By­ron Bay.

“It was a nice day and it was quite good surf,” Ed­wardes tells The Ad­ver­tiser. “No one was in the water at that stage; it was too early.”

They had yet to catch a wave when it hap­pened.

“I got out the back first, sat up on my board and I reckon it was lit­er­ally five sec­onds later (that) I just felt this mas­sive whack,” Ed­wardes re­calls.

“I knew ex­actly what was hap­pen­ing in­stantly. I was like, ‘Oh f .... n’ hell’. I was scream­ing but I wasn’t con­fused. I knew I was be­ing at­tacked by a shark.

“The only way to de­scribe it is like re­ally pow­er­ful shak­ing, al­most like a jack­ham­mer on your leg.

“It was a re­ally pow­er­ful sen­sa­tion. It didn’t last very long – about five sec­onds I reckon – and luck­ily I didn’t see much. I think I saw the top of its head just for a sec­ond.

“I didn’t see gap­ing jaws, which I’m so thank­ful for be­cause I reckon if I had, I’d never surf again.”

Ed­wardes is re­liv­ing the night­mare over a le­mon cor­dial in the back­yard of the beach house he shares with David­son.

“All I knew is I just wanted to get my body out of the water,” Ed­wardes con­tin­ues.

“I grabbed my board and climbed up on to it back­wards … and just started scram­bling ba­si­cally back into shore. At that stage, I was feel­ing no pain, so I had no idea how bad it was.

“My mate Dane met me as I was pad­dling in. I kept scream­ing at him to go in. Dane kept pad­dling out be­cause he wanted to make sure I was all right. He pad­dled all the way out to me and then pad­dled in with me. “He didn’t re­alise that I’d ac­tu­ally been bit­ten. And then when he got to me, he sud­denly saw this huge, big red trail be­hind me and was like, ‘Oh, Je­sus’.

“It took a long time to get back in. I had to al­most stop half­way in and then go again. I was re­ally puffed and ter­ri­fied. I re­ally did think ‘It’s go­ing to come and bite me again’. The whole way back into the beach, I was just wait­ing for it to have another go.”

They got to the beach and Ed­wardes sur­veyed the grue­some dam­age.

“I was feel­ing no pain, so it was se­ri­ously a mas­sive shock to me when I got to the beach and I stood up and just looked down at my leg and went, ‘Holy f...’. I was just look­ing at this huge hole in my leg. There were two small ar­ter­ies and I re­mem­ber they were hang­ing out and they were both lit­er­ally pour­ing with blood like a tap.

“I just looked up at Dane and went ‘Oh s..t’. And then I said to him: ‘This is heaps worse than I thought ... I’m done’.’’

David­son – a teacher at Mul­lumbimby High School who has been good mates with Ed­wardes since their younger days play­ing with the By­ron Mag­pies foot­ball club – re­turns home from work dur­ing the in­ter­view.

“I could hear Sam scream­ing, just this weird scream that I’d never heard be­fore,” David­son says. “He started scream­ing ‘Go in, go in’. As I much as I wanted to go straight in, I thought ‘I can’t leave him out here’. I pad­dled to­wards him a bit so I could es­cort him in.’’

On the beach, as the sand stained red, David­son fash­ioned his surf­board leg-rope into a tourni­quet. “Then I yelled out to a cou­ple of guys who were check­ing the surf to call an am­bu­lance,” he says. “It took about 20 min­utes for the paramedics to ar­rive – and it was a very long 20 min­utes.’’

For Ed­wardes, it was “the strangest 20 min­utes of my life”. “It was sur­real, like a dream, be­cause I was re­ally, re­ally re­laxed and at peace,” he says. “I was def­i­nitely in shock and start­ing to black out.”

By the time the am­bu­lance ar­rived, Ed­wardes had lost about four litres of blood.

“I was find­ing it re­ally hard to breathe and they said that was be­cause I wasn’t get­ting enough blood go­ing around my body,” he says. “I was think­ing ‘This is not good’. I was quite aware that things were pretty dicey.”

He was loaded on to a res­cue chop­per for the 15-minute flight to Gold Coast Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal.

Ed­wardes awoke in ICU af­ter 36 hours’ surgery and looked down.

Mas­sive re­lief – his leg was still there. Even bet­ter, he could move his toes.

Doc­tors had per­formed a marathon skin graft, tak­ing about 60 sq cm from his right up­per thigh to re­pair the badly mauled left thigh.

He spent a month in hos­pi­tal, the first fort­night bed­bound.

“At that point, I thought it was go­ing to take months and months be­fore I walked again,” he says.

“But then at about the three-week mark, my leg just started to get bet­ter re­ally quickly and I was soon walk­ing. I had a pretty no­tice­able limp at first but I was back at work af­ter about 10 weeks.’’

The dam­age has left Ed­wardes with a dodgy knee, which he will prob­a­bly have for the rest of his life.

“I can walk ab­so­lutely fine but I can’t run more than 100m be­cause my leg just doesn’t work prop­erly; it feels like a chunk of mus­cle is miss­ing,” he

says. But Ed­wardes can surf. On a sunny April Satur­day, just seven weeks af­ter the at­tack, he sum­moned the courage to ven­ture back into the ocean. A cou­ple of friends from Ade­laide, Ja­son Smith and Charles Fowler, flew up and, to­gether with David­son, they took Ed­wardes surf­ing at Suf­folk Park beach.

“It was great be­cause the sun was out, I had my mates with me,” Ed­wardes says. “I was def­i­nitely a bit nervy and had to just set­tle in it. I think I fell off on my first wave.’’

Ed­wardes says his fam­ily – par­ents Gil­lian and David and sib­lings Roly, 46, Lorelei, 45, and Monty, 38 – never tried to talk him out of go­ing back into the surf.

The shark that at­tacked him was judged by po­lice and doc­tors to have been a 3m great white.

De­spite his ex­pe­ri­ences, Ed­wardes isn’t swayed ei­ther way in the shark-con­trol de­bate.

“I just don’t think there’s a right or a wrong an­swer,” he says.

The at­tack has changed the easy­go­ing Ed­wardes men­tally, as well as phys­i­cally. “I reckon I’ve been hap­pier since; it makes you ap­pre­ci­ate life, def­i­nitely,” he says. “It’s also made me re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate peo­ple more, be­cause I’ve never been vul­ner­a­ble like that be­fore.’’

The spe­cial-needs students he teaches at South­ern Cross Pri­mary at Bal­lina and his fel­low teach­ers sent him flow­ers and cards – some with graphic draw­ings of fe­ro­cious sharks chomp­ing on poor old Mr Ed­wardes. The at­tack has rad­i­cally al­tered Ed­wardes’s surf­ing habits.

“I’m too scared to surf early in the morn­ing now – I only en­joy it once the sun’s prop­erly up,” he says. “If the water’s dark and gloomy, I just won’t surf now. I haven’t been back to Be­longil and I won’t.”

Ed­wardes ad­mits he’s still ner­vous but his love of surf­ing over­whelms the fear.

“Ob­vi­ously, it still plays on my mind but I try not to let it in­ter­fere with the one thing I love do­ing, which is the ocean and surf­ing,” he says.

“I don’t want to give it up.”

Pic­ture: ADAM HEAD

AT­TACK: For­mer Ade­laide surfer Sam Ed­wardes is back on his board, de­ter­mined to not let a maul­ing by a great white shark dent his love of catch­ing waves.

Pic­ture: ADAM HEAD

GREAT ES­CAPE: Surfer Sam Ed­wardes and, in­set, his shark bite scars.

SURF’S UP: Sam with mates Ja­son Smith, Dane David­son and Charles Fowler and, be­low, with Dane on Be­longil Beach.

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