Denver and the Shark

Loyal friend, social development project manager, surf instructor, collector and curator of a beautiful bonsai forest, lover of nature and since young, a surfer – always a surfer; gentle and soft-spoken, strong of spirit, an unassuming strength in our community: This is the Denver that we know and love.

Last winter was a good season for surf, and on this particular day, one year back, the waves as we say – ‘were cooking!’. As it goes on days like these all the surfing folk who could had spent the morning in the sea making the most of its gift.

Thinking about heading in to join the others already chilling on the beach, including Denver’s new wife Kristy (also a surfer), Eric heard D yell and turned around expecting to see a good set coming through.

The dark form brushing against Denver was no wave-set or friendly dolphin and Eric watched in horror as it turned around, pulled D off his board while simultaneously  shredding through the leash. Eric started to paddle towards him, not sure what he would do when he got there, but rapidly repeating an anti-fear mantra in his head to keep him moving, – before he had the chance to face the reality of his question the shark had grabbed Denver again and disappeared back under. Both guys at this point  claim to have been thinking, ‘it’s over’. Denver also recalls wondering how long it was going to take…..

Miraculously though after a very long 15 – 20 seconds, he resurfaced. The shark having tossed him about a bit on the ocean-floor had lost interest. Perhaps D wasn’t the right seal flavour….or perhaps it had simply chosen that moment to send out a shark-size reminder that this was its turf too. With the additional help of Murray, another mate still in the water, Denver was placed back onto his board and assisted to shore where the guys began first- aid while waiting for the ambulance to arrive from town, some forty minutes away.

Shark attack victims often die from blood loss and shock. The shark hits an artery and you bleed out before reaching shore. Denver’s wounds were horrible but they were fortunately not fatal and after plenty of surgery and TLC from Kristy, he was back on the beach within a few months checking out the swell and grappling with his fears. Not much longer after that with wounds on the mend, he embraced his passion and the ocean once again, surfing out on a new board with lovely Kristy and his church pastor by his side. Funds had been raised to help with medical bills and D elected to use the surplus to start a fund to support similar incidents in the area. He also provided an emergency medical and rescue box on our beach.

It has been a year to the day since the attack and the guys are back in the water surfing whenever the weather and ocean feel benevolent, and we are so grateful to be celebrating a life living rather than a life lived.  But the question that continues to challenge me is this – how does one find the courage, after an incident like this, to face your fear and manage the recurring images that must rush through your head over and over? How do you get back in the water to continue to do what you love?

How do you do that?

Perhaps you chose to embrace the challenge partly because if you don’t it is almost as if the shark attack was infact fatal and you end up loosing a huge part of who and what  you are…. Denver is no fatality.

Without doubt it is a choice of huge magnitude requiring  reason to override fear and demanding enormous courage.

A courage that I find unfathomable  – but one that continues to inspire me daily.

Celebrating a Year of Great Courage – Chintsa East 22 July 2012