The swell in autumn along the west of Victoria is sufficiently reliable for the Rip Curl Pro surfing contest to be held at Bells Beach around Easter each year. This year was the 58th year of the contest. The Rip Curl Pro was the second event on the 2019 World Surf League World Tour (the professional circuit for surf riders who qualify to be on the tour).
The swell didn’t arrive on time, and some of the heats were held at Johanna west of Cape Otway. But just in time for the finals, a big swell was forecast for Friday 26 April. As it turned out, the swell at Bells Beach was big, raw and rendered quite unfriendly by very strong cross shore/onshore winds.
Apollo bay got its share of the Friday 26 April swell but it was not an epic swell. Like the surf at Bells Beach, it was less than it could have been from a surfing point of view by reason of strong winds from the wrong direction. But it was still a swell worth seeing.
On Monday 8 April 2019, around Apollo Bay there was a bigger and cleaner swell than the Friday 26 April swell. There was also an offshore wind on that day. I posted photos of this swell in my blog post of 24 April 2019 (“Apollo Bay in Autumn”).
Some of the photos I took on that day were published in the Colac Herald, a local newspaper published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Three of the photos published are in the thumbnail images below, together with the front page teaser enticing any browser in a newsagent to fork out $1.50 to see for himself or herself if being stunned ensued. There were no subsequent reports of any stunned readers, nor of any increase in circulation of the newspaper.
The Colac Herald article is below. In addition to the above three photos it included a shot taken at Little Henty Reef on Friday 26 April (that photo appears earlier in this post).
I did not write the captions for the photos as published, nor did I write the few paras about me.
As this blog is personal, and has no commercial element whatsoever, the publication of these photos achieved no more than sharing my photos (and my blog address) to a wider audience. This process was interesting if only for the conversations it started with locals, many of whom were surprised that this area could produce swell of this size and quality. The boys in the photos were local boys, who were pretty pleased to have a few shots of their gutsy surf session published.
The 5m shark sighting
On Tuesday 23 April, I went for a 1700 ocean swim. Within half an hour of leaving the water I heard reports that a shark had been sighted from the harbour wall, not far from where we swim. I have an app which reports shark sightings:
There was a faint niggling doubt in my mind that there was something not ‘great white’-like about the swimming motion of the shark as shown in the video. I had a good close look at some great whites a few years ago on a cage dive off Port Lincoln in South Australia. It was highly instructive to watch them feeding and stalking and swimming about. I did a bit of research on the internet, and the evidence supported the possibility of it being a basking shark.
While basking sharks grow larger than great whites (up to 10m), they eat only plankton and are harmless to humans. Further, they do not have the sizeable girth of the great white, and their dorsal fin is a different shape.
I shared my thoughts on this topic with some of my ocean swimming friends.
The basking shark ID found favour with some of us, even though wishful thinking was perhaps ahead of science in reaching this comforting conclusion. In any event, ocean swimming in our bay has gone on uninterrupted and without concern.
For completeness, the locals say there has never been a great white sighted in the bay. At a more general level, the last shark fatality in Victoria was in 1956. Also, there are no reefs in the bay, just sand. Accordingly there is much less marine life in the bay than on the coast east and west of us, where there are reefs and kelp forests and marine life in abundance. In short, none of us expect to get eaten swimming in our bay. If you are interested in reading more about my thoughts on sharks, they are recorded in a post on this blog, dated 6 September 2017 and titled “Sharks and Ocean Swimming.”