SURVIVOR STORY — Seven Mile Beach, NSW, Australia
This report from the Illawarra Mercury – 29 June 2009.
"It was just sitting there, swinging its tail from side to side. It was looking at me and I was looking at it and I thought, ‘What’s your next move? Are you going to attack me from the front?’ "
The 52-year-old grandfather of six was yesterday counting his blessings after the brush with death that occurred in waist-high water and left him nervous about returning to the ocean.
Mr Wade, of Jaspers Brush just south of Berry, had been surfing alone at Seven Mile Beach, Gerroa, for an hour on Saturday morning when a wave brought him closer to shore about 8.30am.
"I got off the board and was standing on the sand in waist-deep water about 20m from shore, with the board facing back to where the break was.
"I started walking and was just about to jump back on the board and go back out when I felt something hit me from behind.
"At first I thought it was another surfer who had got his board and jammed it into the back of my legs.
"The sensation was like a big push then a big clamping action on my leg, but it didn’t actually feel like I’d been bitten. It was pressure and a shove.”
Mr Wade said he turned around to confront his attacker, only to discover a 2m bronze whaler staring back at him.
"For 10 to 15 seconds, I’m looking at this thing and its tail fin is going back and forth really slowly.
"Then it just went, really quick. It thrashed around me and went beneath the surface and was just gone.”
Mr Wade said that as the beach was deserted, he made the amazing decision to climb back on his board and paddle out to sea, in the path of the shark, to seek help.
"There was about 20 surfers, surfing in groups of four and five.
"I said to them, ‘I think I’ve been bitten, can you have a look?’ But because I was lying on my stomach we couldn’t really see the damage.
"All you could see was a few holes in the wetsuit and someone said, ‘You might need a stitch or two, you’d better go in.’
"By the time we got to shore and had a better look, they went, ‘Oh shit, we’d better get an ambulance’.”
Mr Wade said the wetsuit had concealed the fact the shark’s teeth had dragged deep wounds along his skin, including a 15cm gash on his shin and a wound to the heel.
Wife Jenny, who met her husband at Shoalhaven Hospital, said the top of his foot sustained the most damage.
"You could peel the skin right back. I could see the bone while they were checking his tendons. I felt quite ill, watching," she said.
Mr Wade’s wounds were cleaned and checked for shark teeth that may have broken off in his skin, before receiving more than 50 stitches.
He was released from hospital five hours later.
Despite earlier plans to return to the ocean as soon as possible, a fitful night’s sleep had him thinking otherwise.
"I was trying to go to sleep but it just kept coming back, the impact of it," he said.
"Time will tell (if I return to the surf). It will be hard not to, but the first time I go back will be pretty daunting, walking through the 20 to 30m of shallow water.”
After 20 years of surfing, it was only the third time Mr Wade, a father of three adult children, had surfed at Gerroa.
Until two months ago, he had lived his whole life at Shellharbour, before relocating south and commuting daily to Wollongong, where he works at South Coast Equipment.
Despite the terror of his experience, he believes the shark attack was a case of mistaken identity.
"I was swimming near a school of fish. A guy surfing 50m along said there was a heap of flathead and the shark might have been chasing them.
"I had a full-length wetsuit on. With my feet on the bottom, they might have looked like fish."