Bill Silvester, Alstonville
In 1982 Martin Ford, a surfer at Tallow Beach, died as a result of a shark bite. I had spent half my life underwater at that time, as scuba diving was part of my job.
Many years ago my business partner and I were commissioned to build a bloodline for the then meatworks, FJ Workers. Locals were quite rightly concerned that the effluent currently precipitating from the plant to the ocean was a risk to swimmers. Along with my business partner, Richard Hultgren, we built two bloodlines some 500 metres offshore.
I was constantly on the alert for danger, and once I had a narrow escape from an incumbent great white shark – perhaps wanting to take a bite out of me as it followed me to the boat. The 50m swim back to the boat gave the shark ample time to bite me. The shark surfaced so close to the boat I could have patted it – after I climbed back aboard. The vision stays with me to this day.
When young Martin Ford lost his life at Tallow Beach it hit me very hard that surfers are at more risk than SCUBA divers or skindivers. At the time, the Daily Telegraph reported on my feelings on why surfers are more at risk than SCUBA divers.
‘Bill noticed that in every attack he’s recorded, a shark has primarily lunged at a surfboard not a rider. And each time, the surfboard has had a white underbelly. “I don’t think sharks in this area actually attack the riders. I think they are going for the boards. They see a white underbelly, and it’s floating on the surface. They think it is a dead or wounded fish,” Bill said.’
It further reported that ‘”I’ve yet to see a coloured board that’s been attacked. I strongly recommend that riders opt for colours like blue or green. These colours blend into the water. White is the most high-contrast in the water. And, I believe the most dangerous.”’
So, what has changed today? Most surfboards are still white underneath. It appears the latest victim’s board at Kingscliff had a white underbelly too. Just this last weekend at Lennox Head near the surf club I saw surfers unloading boards that were white. I do believe it increases the odds of an attack. Dangling legs with white boards are an attractant to sharks. They may try a bite, and then let go thinking ‘whoops it is not the meal I thought it was!’ But it is too late for the poor surfer if their leg was in the way.