Experience: Surf Boarder
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Foveaux Strait
Interview Location: Curio Bay, NZ
Interview Date: 10 January 2016
Post Date: 11 November 2017; Copyright © 2017 Nick Smart and Steve Crawford
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: What was your first time you recall seeing or hearing about or seeing a White Pointer?
SMART: Probably at school, you know. We learned that stuff at school, became familiar with all that sort of stuff.
CRAWFORD: So, in Timaru – as a kid?
CRAWFORD: When you were growing up in Timaru, did the old-timers up there ever caution or warn you about sharks, in general?
SMART: Yeah, yeah. They’d do that. But not really so many White Pointers up around that area.
CRAWFORD: What kind of cautions - up around Timaru - would people have given kids?
SMART: Just “Be careful. As soon as you get sight of a shark, get out of the water.” But we were pretty lucky in Timaru. We had a few occasions. We had some Sevengill sharks would come up, and sort of bump you, or occasionally ‘mount’ your board, so to say.
CRAWFORD: You mean on the person’s body? Or on the board?
SMART: On the body and the board. Just sort of come up. But Sevengillers, you know, you sort of get to know the shark species. Yeah, we don’t worry about Sevengillers too much.
CRAWFORD: How do you recognize a Sevengiller in the water?
SMART: That’s the hard thing about it - looking at a shark and knowing what type of shark it is. Because if the shark’s going to get you, he’ll come up and get you without you even knowing.
CRAWFORD: Had you seen sharks up around Timaru?
SMART: Yes. Not while I’m surfing. I’ve probably just seen them in the water, or while fishing or something like that. I did have some friends that got mounted by Sevengillers, as we were saying before.
CRAWFORD: Up around TImaru?
SMART: Yeah. Never any bites.
CRAWFORD: But some people are in shock when that happens. When you’re in trauma, when you’re in shock, you don’t necessarily see things the same way.
SMART: Yes. And the water in Timaru’s also very, very murky. Can’t even see your knees, if you’re on the board.
CRAWFORD: Really? Why so murky up there?
SMART: Because of all the rivers coming out. A lot of South Canterbury has so many rivers coming out, so many more rivers you can’t even see on that map. And it just murks up the water.
CRAWFORD: When you were in school up in Timaru, do you remember anybody ever saying anything about White Pointers around there?
CRAWFORD: No sightings or stories? Anything like that?
SMART: No, not that I can recall.
CRAWFORD: But encounters and stories about Sevengillers?
SMART: Yeah, yeah. And Basking Sharks A lot of Basking Sharks in Timaru.
CRAWFORD: Have you seen any Basking Sharks?
SMART: No, I haven’t. But friends have had lots of close encounters with them in Timaru - out sailing.
CRAWFORD: What kinds of ‘close encounters’?
SMART: Sailing in little dinghies, and just big as … the Basking Sharks get massive.
CRAWFORD: Yes they do. When your mates told you these stories, about these encounters, what did they say?
SMART: They were freaked out.
CRAWFORD: By having such a big animal next to them? Or did it respond to them in any way?
SMART: No, it was just a visual thing - that it was such a massive shark. And they’d freak out, and then they’d sail away. The shark goes its way, they go their way. That was pretty random though. It was only once or twice it happened in my lifetime - that I know of.
CRAWFORD: What other sharks maybe have you seen, that you might be able to recognize or identify?
SMART: Wobbegong. I’ve had two Wobbegong encounters out here, actually.
CRAWFORD: In Porpoise Bay?
SMART: Yeah, Porpoise Bay. One time I had one come in - I was sitting on the surf, when I felt something bumping my foot. The water was quite clear, and I looked down and it was a big Wobbegong there. He was about a metre and a half.
CRAWFORD: How did you know it was a Wobbegong?
SMART: Just because I kind of looked at him, and I had a bit of a look. I went home and Identified him on the internet - with the colouring on the top, and that. He was just curious. But another time, I had a bigger one come in. I was paddling the surf board ...
CRAWFORD: Again, here in Porpoise Bay?
SMART: Yeah. Just down the beach a bit further. I was just paddling along you know, to catch another wave. And I looked, and there was a shark swimming right beside me at that same speed. He was about the same length as me, maybe about two metres. And I thought “Oh yeah, that’s cool, just a small shark." I paddled away, and I turned in that direction, and then he followed me. I did a U-turn, and I started going out to sea, and he followed me. The next stage I paddled, and then my hand hit him - so then I just started smashing the water. He just started thrashing, and luckily there was a wave like where the door is [approx. 6 metres]. So, I just turned around, and caught the wave, and went in. Then I sat there in waist-deep water and watched him swimming around. He just kind of swam around a bit, and then he just went down the beach. We just paddled back out and carried on surfing. Because he was only small - he was only two meters. To me, a shark’s not a shark until it’s bigger than me.
CRAWFORD: And how tall are you?
SMART: I’m 6 foot 1. But you know, I can put up a fight. If that shark came in to my size, I can put up a pretty good fight.
CRAWFORD: Right. That was a Wobbegong you figure, as well?
SMART: Yeah, it was definitely a Wobbegong. I know that for sure.
CRAWFORD: What time of year was that?
CRAWFORD: And roughly when?
SMART: February. Not last year, the year before.
SMART: Yeah. And the first time would have been two years before that again.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Let’s come back to the White Pointers. Have you ever seen a White Pointer in the wild, other than the shark cage dive at Stewart Island?
SMART: Not myself, no.
CRAWFORD: Have you heard from others people, mates, old-timers, about White Pointers in this region?
SMART: Haldane Bay - next bay down the coast.
CRAWFORD: And roughly when was that? What year?
SMART: Would have been in early '90s. Maybe 1993.
CRAWFORD: What were the circumstances? What time of year?
SMART: Summertime, or maybe like February-March - around that time of year. There was bit of a story to that one actually. Do you want me to tell it to you?
CRAWFORD: Yes, please.
SMART: Well, one of my friends used to live down here. He’s a Timaru boy. We got friendly with a farmer up the valley, and he had a little hut he used to let us stay in. We’d come down surfing, and my friend liked living down here, so he ended up coming down to live down here. We surfed a reef quite regularly - there's a nice reef break going on the next bay. It’s a bombora, so you’ve got to paddle for 15 minutes across deep water to get to an offshore reef. I wasn't able to go out, but three of them went surfing out there - Paul McLaughlan, Craig Welsh and Brendan Brooks. They said a few minutes earlier they’d seen some Hector's Dolphins in the bay. We quite often would see Hector's Dolphins there, and they thought "Oh that’s Hector Dolphins. It’s safe" you know? Dolphins, no Sharks, you know? As people always say - I hear that all the time here. And when they see Seagulls circling - that is not a good sign.
CRAWFORD: Why not?
SMART: Seagulls circling generally means there are some fish scraps. If a Shark come up and eats something, there’s going be a lot of debris floating on the ocean, and the Seagulls are going to go straight for it. All surfers say that in New Zealand - "If you see Seagulls circling, you’ve got to be a bit careful."
SMART: And then Paul caught a wave, and he’d ridden down the wave, and he was paddling back out. As he’s paddling out, Craig and Brendan sitting on the side of the wave, and quite a big wave came in - maybe the size of this roof here [approx 4 metres], and Paul said it was like an 18-foot White Pointer in the wave, swimming towards where the other two guys were. Sort of going towards them, and then the wave came up and it was a really, really, hard broken wave, really hollow, shooting on it. And the wave just came, and last minute just sucked up and Boom! The guys who were out there heard the yelling. The guy was yelling "Ahh!" so they said they looked in towards the wave, and saw this massive shark coming towards them, doing a big corkscrew dive. And as it went towards them, it dove, and it went down underneath.
CRAWFORD: It turned over on its back?
SMART: On its side, and then dived down, as it was coming towards them. That wave ... they were still maybe 15 metres away. Craig turned around, and he caught the wave and he rode it in to the end of the reef.
CRAWFORD: And this reef is a 15-minute paddle offshore?
CRAWFORD: We’re talking half a kilometre offshore?
CRAWFORD: And all of this happened out there? There were three surfers - your mates?
SMART: Yeah. Paul was on the inside, he had spotted it first. Craig managed to catch the wave that he’d seen the shark in - because it had dove under the wave before it got to him. I honestly believe the shark was coming in to get them, and the wave kind of sucked up, and took a big trove and just kind of messed the shark up a bit.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think the shark was coming in to get them?
SMART: Just because it ... oh, it’s one thing I forgot to tell you about. Fifteen minutes previous to that, they’d seen a big thing just go 'Flap' in the water, and they thought "That’s strange, might just be a Whale or something" - because we do see Whales here. But they didn’t think much of it, and they’d seen the Dolphins, and they probably thought it was safe. I mean, Seagulls - well, alarm bells ringing. But not a big Flap. And then 10 minutes later, Bang! they seen the shark. The guy who was paddling out when he first spotted it, the wave stood up and he seen the whole thing.
CRAWFORD: So, the shark was parallel to the wave?
CRAWFORD: It was going along the wave?
SMART: Yeah. Inside the wave, going towards the other two. They were out on the side of the wave, as it kind of came in, it did the big corkscrew dive, and then went down. Put it this way, if that wave hadn't been there, I think things would have been very different.
SMART: Because it would have been flat water. That shark would have been swimming straight towards them, and then Bang! - all of a sudden wave puffs up, something pops up in between them, and messes the shark up. I believe.
CRAWFORD: When your mates told you the story, you heard it from their three different perspectives, right?
CRAWFORD: Other than the corkscrew dive at the end, did they say anything about the speed of it?
SMART: Didn’t really mention the speed of it - just that it was swimming with speed.
CRAWFORD: And it was a big shark?
SMART: He said ... I mean, we’re all pretty familiar with the oceans in New Zealand. And the first guy who’d seen it, Paul, he’s a fishing guide now. He’s very, very, experienced.
CRAWFORD: The guy’s been around the water.
SMART: He’s been around. But he said, it wasn’t so much the length of it. He said it was the girth of it. The thickness of it. He reckoned it was like 6-foot wide. He said he could see it in the wave, and sure it was long - but it was but the thickness and the width of it.
CRAWFORD: And that’s when the animal was coming to him?
SMART: Well, he was spotting on the inside. He was kind of safe, but the shark was swimming towards the other two guys, and the wave broke between them.
CRAWFORD: So, the shark was going across from him ...
SMART: Yeah it was. Going towards the other two guys. Craig caught that wave, and rode it in to where the wave stops at the end. The guys were freaked out, and they started paddling in. Brendan had missed that wave ...
CRAWFORD: And he was still out there on the reef?
SMART: He was still out there. But then the next wave came, he caught that, and went in. He didn’t even have a visual of the shark. The shark was gone by then. So, between the second wave and the third wave, the shark was gone.
CRAWFORD: There was no indication, no circling behaviour afterward?
SMART: Nothing. But when they got on the beach, they waited for Brendan, who was a few minutes behind them. That guy, when he got up on the beach he started dry retching, because he was that freaked out, you know? He wasn’t actually throwing up, he was just hyperventilating. They all got up there, and they walked up the beach. They got their clothes, they got changed. And five minutes later, that shark swam all the way back in the lagoon! Exactly to where their footprints were on the beach. And then it just turned around, and swam back out to sea.
CRAWFORD: They saw that?
SMART: They saw that. When they got out, they had a camera there, and they took some photos, and you can see the fin. But that was at the same time the tide was getting a bit low, lots of kelp sticks out. Sometimes the kelp comes up, and it can look just like a fin. But we're used to that, you just don’t worry about it. But he had photos of it, and you could see it was inside the reef, and you could see it. But it wasn’t a zoom lens, and it was a long way away.
CRAWFORD: But the fact was that they saw it, and they were absolutely convinced that that was not just a shark but ...
SMART: That one guy lived here. He was my best friend, and so many nights we’d sit around and he would just tell me so many times that story. Just burned into him, you know? After that, my mates were a bit freaked out, and didn’t really want to surf there too much. Then I came down one time, and we said "Right. Come on, let’s surf over the reef." We called it the reef because it’s a reef break, it was a good swell. We’d been over there, we had a good surf, and we came home and had lunch. And we thought "Right. We’ll go back and surf it one more time on the outgoing tide, because it’s a high tide break only." As soon as we arrived, we came up to lookout on the hill - the break is a good 800 meters out from the lookout point of the hill. As soon as we pulled up, I looked out and I seen a wave break and I seen this - I’ll never forget it - I seen a big kind of light grey shape of a shark silhouette in the wave. And then that wave passed by, and then it was gone. So, I only seen that wave for about two or three seconds.
CRAWFORD: And that was from an elevated perspective?
SMART: Yeah. Looking down on it, so I had a pretty good look.
CRAWFORD: 800 meters away, though.
SMART: Yes. So, it was pretty big. I mean, I would estimate that shark to be at least 12 foot. At least.
CRAWFORD: That offshore reef in Haldane Bay, what kind of depth around it?
SMART: Probably be 20-30 feet deep.
CRAWFORD: And this story was told to you pretty soon after the incident?
SMART: Few days afterwards, at most.
CRAWFORD: And without you experiencing it yourself, that was a very close encounter from people you know and trust?
SMART: it’s the closest encounter with a White Pointer that I’ve ever heard of in my surfing career, in all of New Zealand. Apart from the bite that we had here last year.
CRAWFORD: You said your mates were convinced, based on the swimming behaviour of the animal and its orientation and on top of everything the fact that it came back, that this was at least a Level 3 and they thought that it was a Level 4?
SMART: Yeah. Well, yeah, it was definitely very, very interested in them.
CRAWFORD: Right, whether it was a Level 3 or a Level 4, we will never know.
CRAWFORD: Thank you for the interview, man.
SMART: Yeah. No worries.
Copyright © 2017 Nick Smart and Steve Crawford