What This Cape Town Guy Did When He Came Face To Face With A Shark

Surfer Sacha Specker relives a harrowing shark encounter – and reflects on his saving grace


Jazz Kuschke |

It was a Friday afternoon and I was just itching to go out for a surf at Dunes, a beach-break near Noordhoek in Cape Town. I had heard the waves had been good all day. I got reports while I was working and I managed to get down there at around 4pm. I’d been out for a while, maybe an hour. The surf was really good and a bunch of the local guys were out there, but people had started leaving, so it was getting less and less crowded – which was nice. There was probably about a dozen of us out there and some really big sets coming through. This kind of spread everyone out a bit.

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The water was quite green, which is unusual for Dunes, where the water is typically crystal clear. There had been a long, big swell that had been running before and that had probably churned up the water and made it a bit milky. I was in or around the middle of the 12 people out there – not furthest out and not closest in – which is where I like to position myself. It felt like I was in a good place for the next wave.

Then there was a little bit of a lull, with everyone sitting on their boards, when one of the younger kids looked back – as you do to check how you’re lined up with the beach. I saw his face drop – he looked like he had saucers for eyes. He freaked out, shouting, “There’s a shark behind you!”

By the time I turned around the shark was super close, maybe three or four metres behind me, and right on the surface, gunning directly for me. There was no question whether he was just cruising around – he was making a beeline straight for me. At that point I got a bit of a fright and I swung around to face him, and as I did he dipped under. He wasn’t really showing too much aggression, but he came up right next to me, about an arm’s length away. Then he dipped and came up again.

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I was acting on full instinct at that point. The only thing I could think to do was to keep facing the shark. I wasn’t thinking that; I was just doing it. He kept circling me, for about a minute or minute-and-a-half. He was just circling me inquisitively, but so close; his pectoral fins touched my feet twice.

I’d estimate his size at about three metres or just over. The space between his dorsal and tail fin was about as long as me, so I don’t know exactly. There was a lot of girth to him though, which really got to me. It wasn’t so much his length – it was his weight and sheer bulk.

He circled me for what felt like an age. He seemed determined and interested, but not aggressive – he never had a go at me or took a full charge, and I didn’t prod him with my board or anything. I just tried to stay calm and stay face-on.

Then Mike Schlebach, who was in the water with us, started shouting to the rest of the guys, “Let’s paddle towards him.” They were probably about 20 metres away from me, and a whole group of them started paddling towards me. You know, it was kind of a numbers game. I think the plan was to outnumber the shark and try to put him on the back foot, and just hope like hell it worked

Luckily it did. As the guys got closer and closer to me he backed off – not completely, but you could see him deciding to give me some space. Then, just before they got close enough, he did a bigger loop, came straight back at me and dipped under again. Almost as though he was weighing up his options one last time. By that time everyone was quite close and he dipped under us and moved off into the south, down towards Long Beach.

Then it was obviously quite a mad scramble to get back to the beach.

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What those guys did was pretty brave. Who knows what was going through that shark’s head, but anything could have happened. Those guys had nothing to do with it and could have worried only about themselves, by they decided as one to help me. It was amazing.

Four Ways Sacha Bounced Back:

1. Get back in the water the very next day.

I wanted to shake off that feeling. I felt pretty good; I went surfing at Llandudno the next day, which is my home break. I spend a lot of time there so it’s quite easy and the waves were still pumping so that kept my mind off it.

2. Talk about it.

I spoke about it a lot. I also wrote down everything that had happened, which helped me make sense of it.

3. Process the details.

It takes some time to figure it all out – there are a lot bits and pieces that you need to process over time to help you deal with that fear.

4. Be prepared.

It’s weird to think about it now, but I had played the situation out in my head a lot of times before it happened, which I think had helped me a lot.

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