The Great White Shark. Natures Valley. South Africa. 2016
The pallet that I hold in front of my canvas of journeys has on its surface a painterly collection of characters and places. What I paint on that canvas is a small aspect of my attempts to enlarge and capture pictorially, the greater essence of all that surrounds me. I have seen places of great beauty, strangeness and endless vastness. With people, it is much the same. Sometimes, we just pass through each other’s lives and then fade into the past. It takes all kinds to make this world, each one of us with something special hidden somewhere. Of the many incidents and stories encountered along my way, I hold the one told to me by Andrew McIlleron, in shock and awe. It counts amongst one of the most frightening personal stories I have ever heard. Andrew is a soft-spoken, reserved man, who lives not far from me in Nature’s Valley. He moved away from the big city razzmatazz of modern advertising, to find his own creativity and peace in our small coastal village. His first love lies in the beauty and the might of the Indian Ocean, in the waves that she rolls in from the big beyond, onto the beach in front of his house. You must understand, that, above all, Andrew is a surfer. On a day that sparkled bright, the water was a miracle of clarity and blueness. It’s about 3:30 pm, late summer, about a year ago. Position: Approximately 150 meters out at sea, big incoming waves, gentle, about 2 meters in height. Our man of the sea, floating the swells alone on his surfboard, then spots a massive fin some 30 metres away. The monster of a Great White seemed to hover in a forward position —- its head slightly down and tail fins exposed. Suddenly, in an explosion of black and grey, this enormous fin rockets towards our surfer. In a moment of unexplained clarity and fright, from a primal instinct of survival, Andrew pushes his board and head under the surface of the water and screams a full mouth of air and sound. The water vibrates and the scene around him is transformed into bubbles of panic and spray as the shark cruises closely by. Then a lull descends on the water around him, the ominous foreboding of another attack hanging still, like that of death. There is —- almost nothing, an eerier stillness of fear, the terrifying fear of knowing that you are being hunted by one of the ocean’s prime predators. Then our surfer sees the shape of the dark shadow targeting him from the depths below. Once again, Andrew ducks below the surface and screams. The huge shark bumps the surfboard, angles into a tight curve and circles again like a submarine trailing bubbles. Suddenly, inexplicably, it is gone, into the blue. The surfer manages to paddle his way ashore and falls exhausted onto the sand, his whole body shaking with fear. Always curious, I asked him about the screaming? Andrew once read a book by the famous underwater still and motion photographer Hans Hass (1919- 2013) in which he mentions the underwater scream as a defence against a shark attack. He estimated the shark to have been about 3.5 meters in length and he should know. This was Andrew’s 2nd encounter and since then he has had a 3rd Great White scare. Believe me, Andrew McIlleron is not a man to over dramatise matters, he is a man who simply loves to surf.