Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Horror of shark attack replays at night for teen witness

George Maoate has not been in the water by himself since the shark attack. Photo / Richard Robinson
George Maoate has not been in the water by himself since the shark attack. Photo / Richard Robinson

The nights are the worst for George Maoate, the 14-year-old who was surfing next to Adam Strange when the popular Muriwai local was fatally attacked by three sharks.

George, who is home-schooled and known locally as "the lawn boy" because of his successful weed eating side-business, said things were easier during the daytime.

"I'm pretty busy so I'm not really thinking about it. It's just at night, I start worrying and stuff."

A surfer for eight years, it had been difficult to return to the ocean.

"[It was] pretty creepy. I'm not really going out by myself. I've been in three times, and I've gone out with people. I've never been out by myself ever since."

When might it feel normal again? "Probably in the next 10 years. I'm still getting over that hump.

It's one thing to watch someone you don't know get in trouble, and then it's another watching your friend."

Apart from a near constant rumble of watertank refilling trucks, he said Muriwai was quiet.

"You drive out into town, you feel this different energy. And when you drive back into Muriwai there's just this low environment, and it feels sort of dead, kind of. But we'll get through, eventually.

"I reckon the community is cool, you know. They are really supportive. I have strangers stop right in front of the driveway and ask if I'm all right. I'm like, who are you? I guess everyone is in that same position I am."

George has also acted on a long held ambition to join the surf-lifesaving club.

Muriwai Lifeguard Service chairman Tim Jago said George was "older than his years".

"He knew that he needed to talk to people about this, and he knew that the people who would be talking about it would be up here in this building.

"So he made an intelligent decision to come and spend some time with us.

"Not surprisingly he was wobbly on a couple of occasions, but a number of us were. So it was good for him that we all got wobbly together."

Last week a group of Mr Strange's friends were sitting on the club house deck having a quiet drink when George came "hurtling across the sand dunes with his skateboard under his arm".

"He ran up here, and without breaking a stride or missing a beat he said, 'Surf's perfect, it's a metre, it's offshore, I'm going home to get my board, see you guys there'.

"They all looked at him, looked at each other, burst out laughing and said, he's laid the gauntlet down, how can we refuse? Dare I say it, if he hadn't done that some of those guys would still be sitting there going, when am I going for my next surf?"

Swimmers shun shark attack beach

But two weeks after a fatal shark attack, things at Muriwai Beach are still a little different.

On a glorious summer's day there is only a handful of people in the water, none much more than waist-deep.

Around at Maori Bay, the few surfers who are out half-jokingly talk about bringing out dive knives, and "shark" is the only English word used by Japanese tourists walking to the Gannet colony trail above.

But despite the quiet, the surf lifesaving club is being kept busy with false alarms. One local, looking through a telescope, reported large, dark clumps of floating seaweed.

"It [the attack] brought a premature end to the season in many respects," said Muriwai Lifeguard Service chairman Tim Jago. "Beach attendance levels have been well down. The number of people in the water is down, significantly, and the number of adult surfers is down, significantly.

"People I talk to, what you would call water people ... I wouldn't say they are reluctant to go in the water but there's still a respect period in place. We'll get back there, but it's still just a little bit raw."

Up above Maori Bay, surfer Jeremy Perkins, 21, said he had thought of the fatal shark attack "a little bit" while out in the water.

"I've heard a few guys talk about bringing out dive knives with them. But, nah, I'm not too worried at all. What was it, second one in 30 years?"

The lack of people around was remarkable, he said.

"We went to Muriwai and there were about two surfers in the water. The conditions aren't the greatest, but you'd expect a few more out. A few more learners, a few more tourists."

Local cabinet-maker Ross Grant, 36, said he had already gone for a swim and would probably have a surf today.

"I suppose it will be something extra you've got to think about. It's just one of those things that can happen, eh? You know they [sharks] are out there. Probably just don't think about how close they are."

Mr Jago said that while adults had been cautious about returning to the water, younger people had been more enthusiastic.

About 650 children had been put through the club's school programme since the attack. The programme was cancelled for a couple of days, but when it restarted no school pulled out.

He was proud of the way his team, some of whom went out to the scene of the attack and retrieved victim Adam Strange's body, had come through a traumatic event.

"What they've seen was not very pleasant at all. But all were back on the job as soon as rostered. Three of the four worked the next day."

It would take some time, but he felt the community was nearly back to normal.

- NZ Herald

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