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As all surfers know, when we step off the continent and paddle out, there is an inherent risk associated with this decision. To put it bluntly, we as humans are no longer the superior species when we enter the ocean - sharks are. Dating back to prehistoric times, these apex predators have evolved into amazing animals capable of incredible things. Sadly, these animals sometimes confuse harmless surfers for prey, and what may just be a taste bite for them can be a life threatening injury for us.
In what may be a terrible coincidence, two local surfers on Australia’s west coast were attacked in the same day just miles from the WSL Margaret River Pro. Fortunately, the two surfers have survived the attacks and remain in the hospital as they recover. While this is big news in itself, the World Surf League has taken an unprecedented position with respect to its event at Margaret River. In a statement released on April 17th from WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, she explained “...The WSL has made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the Margaret River Pro, as a result of exceptional circumstances surrounding this season's event regarding sharks and the safety of our surfers.”
As the shockwave traveled through the surf world, many questions arose as to what will happen with prize money, points, and the potential to finish the event at a different location. To keep it simple, Deputy Commissioner Renato Hickel explained on the WSL Instagram that the surfers, both men and women, who have already lost will still get the place and points they earned, as well as the respective prize money. For the men still in the event, they will all receive equal 13th places and split the remaining prize money. For the women, the remaining surfers will receive equal 5ths and also split the remaining prize money.
Of course, a decision like this comes with quite a bit of controversy from both the media and surfers. Those who seemed to be most vocal about the shark issue were Brazilians Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira who both took to Instagram to express their opinion prior to the event being called off.
“Today they had two shark attacks on a beach close to where we're competing. I do not feel safe training and competing in this kind of place, any time anything can happen to one of us. Hope not. Leaving my opinion before it's too late!”
“Two shark attacks in less than 24 hours here in Australia, just a few miles from where the event is being held. Very dangerous don’t you think? Even so, they keep insisting on doing steps where the risk of having this type of accident is 90%, so I ask: is not the safety of athletes a priority? We already had several alerts. Life is worth more! I hope it does not happen to any of us. I do not feel comfortable training and competing in places like this!”
Furthermore, check out this video of John John on a wave with what looks to be shark! (Or huge dolphin) Fast forward to the 9:30 mark.
After commissioner Kieren Perrow made the announcement to the athletes, most, if not all, responded in a very supportive manner. Conner Coffin took to his IG to offer his opinion on the news:
Filipe Toledo also had some words to say via the social platform:
With the decision made, most of the CT surfers swiftly packed up and are on their way to their respective homes. It’s unfortunate we as spectators did not get to see more surfing, but it is completely understandable that they canceled the event. Goldschmidt concluded her statement perfectly: “…If we decided to continue the event under the current circumstances, and something terrible were to take place, we would never forgive ourselves.” Case closed. If that doesn’t leave you with chills and something to think about, you’ve probably never been spooked out in an uncrowded, cold water lineup.
The great news is that the next event is the WSL Founders Cup held at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch which features a man made pool filled with nothing but water! No sharks...no worries!
If you are seriously spooked out and are looking for a Shark Safety Guide, read ours HERE!
See you in the water!