As Jebez Reicman plays with his young daughter Marley, you can see a man who is full of energy and life, despite his recent encounter with a shark that came just hours before the one that felled fellow surfer Tadashi Nakahara.
The Ginger Pig chef admits he is lucky to be alive after being attacked by what experts believe was a three-metre bull shark off Seven Mile Beach around dawn on Sunday.
But despite that, and another close encounter a couple of weeks earlier, Jebez says he can’t wait to get back in the water.
It was a special trip: he was taking a work colleague, who was a novice surfer, for a ‘semi-professional’ surf before she returned home to California.
They arrived at the beach around 5.30am, after ‘scoping waves’ at several other sites, and liked what they saw.
‘We got down to the beach about 10 to six, did a bit of a scour, did a few exercises and jumped in the water,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Jebez says it was still quite dark when they got in the water and there was an unusually wide trough behind the shorebreak.
‘There was a really deep gutter about 40 metres wide and then there was a sandbar out the back. So it took us about 10 minutes to battle through a couple of sets to the sandbar we were aiming for.
‘When we got out there, we had a big pod of dolphins swimming around us and underneath us. I told her not to freak out, they were just dolphins.’
Jebez told his friend to stay where she was while he swam out to catch a couple of waves. He would then come back and help her catch a few.
It was when he turned and began to paddle out again that the shark struck. Contrary to the popular myth it was only seconds after they sighted the dolphins.
Ironically, when the attack did come, he thought at first he’d been jumped by a playful dolphin.
‘I reached for the nose of my surfboard and went to lean forward to lie down, and that’s when the incident occurred,’ Jebez says.
Dragged under water
‘It jumped out of the water and grabbed me off my board – it dragged me under water.
‘I didn’t feel it grab me, I didn’t feel it bite me. I got hit in the face by the nose and again with its tail.
Jebez says the shark towed him four to five metres under the water ‘in an instant’.
‘When I popped back up to the surface I realised it was quite a few metres from where the incident happened.
‘When I surfaced I was stinging, and that’s when I realised it wasn’t a dolphin,’ Jebez says with barely a trace of irony.
Blood in the water
‘I couldn’t see the wound but I could see the blood in the water. That’s when I jumped onto my surfboard. Then I realised my board was upside down, so I had to jump off my surfboard really quickly and flip it over.’
He admitted that having to jump back into the water after the attack was ‘the hairiest part’.
‘I started yelling at her to paddle in, that I’d been bitten by a shark. She thought I was wigging her out – didn’t believe me until she actually saw the wound on my back as I paddled past her.
‘I have to say I paddled in so fast. I don’t think I’ve paddled so fast in my life. She was paddling behind me in the wake of my blood. I looked back at her and her eyes were like dinner plates,’ Jebez says.
It had been no more than 15 minutes since the pair had entered the water. But perhaps the most remarkable part of the entire morning was yet to come.
When they reached the shore Jebez says he was feeling a little dizzy but nevertheless decided it would be better to drive straight to hospital than wait for an ambulance to arrive.
‘There was no way I was going to bleed out on that beach waiting for an ambulance,’ Jebez says.
Driving to hospital
‘I knew I’d lost a bit of strength on my right side because I had to take my leg rope off with my left hand,’ he says.
‘I knew there was blood loss but it wasn’t spurting. I calmly walked the couple of hundred metres back up to the car and I saw a guy getting out to go into the surf, so we alerted him.’
‘I made them put the surfboards back in the car and said to her “you’re going to have to drive”. And that’s when she said “I don’t have a drivers licence”.’
So Jebez changed seats and, propped against a few towels to mop up the blood still streaming from his back, drove himself to Byron Bay Hospital.
‘I will admit I did speed, I passed a few cars. It took about seven minutes – that’s usually how long it takes me to get from home [Suffolk Park] to the Pass,’ he says.
‘I did speed – a lot – but that wasn’t my main concern. My main concern was “I’m gonna die if I don’t get there quickly”.’
Jebez says the staff at Byron Hospital quickly put him on a saline drip, mopped up his wounds, x-rayed him to make his chest wasn’t crushed in the attack and put him in an ambulance to Gold Coast Hospital.
‘I do applaud everyone who’s helped me on this journey,’ he says.
A big fish
The shark took a chunk from his upper right chest and left puncture wounds around his buttocks.
‘I guess in hindsight it wasn’t Jaws or anything but it was a big fish.
‘An expert came yesterday from department of fisheries’ shark biology. He had a whole lot of jaws of different sharks and compared them. He said it was definitely a bull shark of three to three-and-a-half metres and that I was lucky to get away.’
Interestingly, Jebez says he was not wearing a ‘shark band’, which he believes saved him from attack three weeks earlier.
‘I was surfing with my mate Peter down at South Wall and there were probably between 40 and 60 surfers in the water at one stage.
‘It turned out there was an eight-to-nine foot tiger shark swimming around erratically.
‘Suddenly everyone was catching waves in – not to surf, just getting out of the water. It fed its way all the way up the lineup to the Wall where I was.
‘A set came in and there was this big fish in front of me – a big dark thing coming towards me. It came within a metre or a metre-and-a-half then turned around and spun away.
‘I like to think the shark band was the reason why it took off.
‘It’s a patented Californian design – it’s a rare earth magnet, a really, really powerful magnet.
‘I’m really excited that this technology is coming out. Maybe it needs to be incorporated into all water activity.
But Jebez admits nothing can stop shark attacks completely.
‘It doesn’t protect against great whites because they attack at a very fast speed from a long distance. They’re really predatory sharks. When it comes to a great white, nothing’s going to deter them.’
Culling won’t help
Even so, Jebez says that calls for culls of great white sharks are misplaced.
‘It’s a typical narrow-minded view. Killing sharks isn’t going to stop them. They travel such long distances and they’re not territorial in any way. They move where the food goes. And it’s the mullet season, there are bait fish everywhere. That’s what they come in for. Nine times out of ten you won’t even see the shark – you won’t know it’s there.’
‘They’re always there. There are so many sharks in the ocean. If we had patrols every day, it would be phenomenal how many sharks you would spot. This is a very “sharky” area.’
And Jebez is adamant his surfing days are far from over.
‘It’s not going to stop me going back in the water, Jebez says. ‘I just want to look at healing, getting back to 100 per cent fitness, and getting back out there.’