On The Road With Corey Wilson: Shark Diving

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All Photos: Corey Wilson

Depending on your dimensions, a surfboard provides a sliver of security between your gut and what lurks in the depths below. Water photographers don't have that buffer. They sit on the surface like human driftwood, bobbing with only a water housing and some swim fins to combat prehistoric jaws. It's badass to surf somewhere that great white sharks are known to frequent, but it's lunacy to swim. Corey Wilson does both — but it’s his job to do the latter. He does it with a smile on his face and nary a hint of fear in eyes. For this edition of Corey Stories, we talked about his experience shark diving off the coast of South Africa during the 2015 J-Bay Open contest. You know, that contest. —Jake Tellkamp

SURFING: The day of your shark dive coincided with Mick Fanning's encounter. How did you find out about his ordeal and how did it affect your experience?
COREY WILSON: Our trip started the day of the final. Owen and Wilko wanted to go shark diving so we got up early and did it. As we were diving, Mick was attacked by a shark at J-Bay. When we got out of the water, checked the results of the final on his phone and saw what happened. We were freaking out. It was so gnarly, my heart dropped. The next day, it really sank in and I started crying.

Many people who have dived with sharks talk about how beautiful they are. Do you have a newfound respect for them?
Not at all. Those things are fucking psycho [laughs].

What was the worst thing about the dive?
My housing smelt like chum for weeks after it. I scrubbed it with bleach and tried a bunch of different things, but no matter what I did it still smelled like fish. We still were on our trip so I knew I had to shoot water and couldn't really get comfortable out there. I was sitting on the surface in a little ball trying to tuck my arms and legs in around the housing.

Who do you think charges the hardest in terms of swimming at places that are notoriously sharky?
Pat Stacy. He's one of my favorite photographers and an all around great person. I remember he had one of the sickest covers of Timmy Reyes at what looked like the sketchiest wave in the middle of the ocean. I can only imagine how scary that must have been.