The Fox Grom Shootout is held on North Stradbroke Island, a magical place with an abundance of life…from kangaroos roaming in backyards to the occasional shark swimming below your feet. We joined last year’s comp, camping at Cylinders beach, having lots of fun with other surf-living families and loving the warm, down to earth, family atmosphere created by Bede and his crew.
This year Mum had said we couldn’t afford to go – with the cost of the ferry and everything else, she said we would have to sit this one out. Luckily my friend Shaye Leewendal came to rescue, with her parents offering to let me tag along with them. It was so generous of them! And I was so lucky there were still spots available in the under 16 girls competition.
The night before we were leaving the news reports were talking about a huge storm – cyclone level – in the area. My lovely and overly cautious grandmother was panicking and said it would be too dangerous to go – but I was getting excited; a cyclone always meant big waves! I gave her a big hug and promised I would be safe. Mum smiled at me with excitement in her eyes – she knew what kind of surf I loved! After two days of torrential rain, winds and massive washing machine surf, on the Sunday the waves settled down a little and cleaned up just in time for my final.
It was big, powerful and beautiful surf at North Stradbroke island and I had 20mins to catch 2 scoring waves. As I paddled out. I gave respect to the area and asked for blessings. My Mum’s friend Baz had been telling me stories about the sacredness of the area and pointed out a magnificent osprey (bird of prey) that was flying overhead – a special sign…I felt so relieved when the men surfing in the competition area comforted us and told us that every wave was ours. I began to paddle furiously when I nice looking left-handed begun to swing my way. “Gee, this one is pretty big” I thought to myself, starting to hesitate, but I could hear Bedes voice on the micro phone saying “Go Pacha” so I pushed all the nasty thoughts to the back of my head and flew down the face of the wave. After a couple of turns, the wave finished, so I paddled to the shore, ran up the beach, up the cliff, down the cliff and paddled as fast as I could to get back out into the line-up.
I looked down to see a massive stingray cruising along underneath me – I was so mesmerized that I didn’t notice a large set rolling through. I quickly tried to paddle out but was caught in the impact zone, so I took a deep breathes, duck-diving under them, waiting for them to pass.
Suddenly, there was under 10 mins to go and I needed another wave. I scratched onto another left-hander and just as I was doing my second turn, I saw a strange, brown creature in the water ahead of me. It took a second to figure out what it was…Shark!! Somehow, instead of feeling scared, I sensed that it had no bad intentions and just happened to be there in the waves with me. It was the first time I had ever surfed in a final with a shark! I wonder if it will ever happen again!
I ended up coming second to my friend Piper in what was a close final score, but the real achievement was in facing my fears – outside my comfort zone, outside of my control – feeling the exhilaration of being out there in wild nature. It was a life changing experience.