To quit, or not to quit. That is the question that will inevitably play on the mind of any shark attack survivor — an ironic inversion of Hamlet’s famous question, in which “quit” and “be” become almost synonymous. Mick Fanning was back in the water little more than a week after his ordeal in South Africa, but then that shark never actually got his teeth stuck into Mick. Craig Ison, who in July was attacked by a great white whilst surfing Evans Head, New South Wales, woke up last week from an induced coma. He’s reflected that he’s still ahead — still alive at any rate, with all four limbs accounted for — and he’s decided to quit. “There’s no way I’m getting back in the water, no way in the world,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “I managed to beat a white pointer. That’ll do me.”
In addition to now being an ex-surfer, Ison is also an ex-boxer; in 1991 he was Far North Coast champion. Naturally, when confronted by a great white, he punched his way to safety, four expertly delivered blows enabling his escape. Having persuaded the shark to relinquish its grip, Ison was helped back to shore, where friends and bystanders applied a tourniquet to his leg, probably saving his life in the process. He had been bitten on the hand, arm, and thigh, and was bleeding profusely; doctors later said the shark missed his femoral artery — the severance of which would almost certainly have proved fatal — by millimetres.
Craig’s former trainer, Ballina resident Denis Magnay, allowed himself a wry smile on hearing the news. “I heard Craig punched the shark,” he said. “My son told me, and I said, ‘yep, that would be bloody right. That’s him’.” Ison himself, who still has some of the shark’s teeth embedded in his leg, recounts the incident in language reminiscent of a title fight:
“It was personal. He was saying to me ‘don’t even bother thinking you’re going to get out of this one mate, you’re fucked, I’ve got you no worries’.”
To quit, or not to quit — here a somewhat different proposition.
“I said to the shark, ‘fuck you, I’ll fight dirty too’. His jaws were just ripping and tearing and I’m there just looking at it, I thought ‘I better do something’ so I went bang, bang, bang, bang and punched him four times and he let go.”
“The survival skills come in, they reckon punching them between the eyes stuns them a little bit, they don’t like any resistance they just like to injure you first and then finish you off, he would have just kept going fucking at my leg [sic] until my leg dropped off if I didn’t punch him.
“There are that many sharks in places, it’s ridiculous; it’s all about numbers, and when you have a protected species like killer white sharks for 15 years, what do you think is going to happen?”
The attack on Ison is one of a number of such encounters on the northern NSW coast in recent months; the tourism industry is said to be suffering as a result, and the local surfing population is growing increasingly restless. At a recent meeting at Le-Ba Boardriders Club in Lennox Head, roughly 95% of the 200 attendees declared themselves in favour of a “controlled management solution” — which in this case would entail a limited cull of local sharks. Of course, there’s nothing “personal” about a shark attacking a surfer, and nor is it “fighting dirty” — for the ocean is not a boxing ring, and there are no rules against biting; but that doesn’t change the fact that attacks are becoming increasingly common on this stretch of Australia’s east coast, and it’s a dangerous time to be a surfer there. To cull or not to cull, now there’s another question altogether.