John Florence and Kolohe Andino have taken to the lineup for the final of the Margaret River Pro, but the prior semifinal between Kolohe and Filipe Toledo saw a few thousand other guests: schools of tuna, salmon, and bait fish begin their seasonal migration this time of year, and the hordes of fish surfaced non-stop around Main Break. The flurry of activity drew concerns that other hungry visitors were splashing in the lineup and indulging in what Deputy Commissioner Renato Hickel called a “feeding frenzy.” Porta later confirmed that smaller sharks were sighted, and that the Water Patrol team would look for larger kin, but not before Kolohe and Filipe were both removed from the lineup at the 15:30 mark.
“There are a lot of fish in the water, and both surfers saw them and were quite shaken about it,” said Hickel. “We sent a water patrol team and our shark prevention system team to assess the situation along with head judge Richie Porta, and they decided to put the event on hold, for the sake of everyone. I know the guys are in the water patrolling the lineup, and once we have confirmation from them and from the chopper that everything is okay to resume the competition, we'll do it.”
Both Andino and Filipe looked rattled in the active lineup; replays were shown of wave faces pockmarked and swollen with swimming fish. The thought that sharks could be hunting below the surface was too much after two years of intense discussion in the shark conversation, particularly in Australia, where encounters with surfers have registered in unprecedented numbers. It was enough of a scare to put both surfers on edge.
“I think five to 10 minutes into the heat, we saw these splashes,” Kolohe told Barton Lynch on land. “I don't think either of us could surf after that. We paddled over to where Strider was and said, ‘I think there are sharks.’ There were so many fish swimming under me. I know that the big fish follow the small fish. We were just out there not really knowing what to do. Filipe caught a little insider and I was out there by myself…I couldn't even think.”
Equipped with specialized sonar and shark protection systems, two members of the water patrol team roamed the lineup to check for more fin sightings before proceeding with the heat. Action resumed after 20 minutes, and we now have a final matchup underway between Kolohe and John Florence. But the fright was real, and as repeated by Hickel and head judge Richie Porta, safety was, and is, the highest priority.
“That was gnarly. I was trying to talk with Kolohe, but I couldn't even think,” said Filipe during the hold. “Splashes everywhere. Guys on the ski were saying it was fish. It was definitely fish, but what else is down there, you know? [Deciding to go on hold] is better. It's safer. They're going to clean up the lineup, and we'll be good to go.”