Surfing: Teen surfer riding high after shark attack

By Dylan Cleaver

While surfing one day, Paige Hareb and her mate Wini Paul realised they had company. Waiting for a decent set off the Taranaki coastline they peered into the water and saw they were being circled by a territorial sea lion.

It was, said Hareb, "pretty scary", so she can't begin to imagine what it must feel like to come face-to-face with a toothy shark.

Bethany Hamilton could tell her, but they don't go there. It's a taboo subject for Hareb.

The 16-year-olds have become friends on the junior women's surfing tour. For most surfers it is better not to think of what lies beneath.

"At the opening of this tournament they [the officials] told us there had been a shark spotted near where we were surfing, but nah, nobody really talks about it," Hareb said.

Hamilton, though, will have a constant reminder. In October 2003 she met a four-metre tiger shark while surfing at Tunnels Beach in her native Hawaii. The shark took her arm off just below the shoulder.

Now, Hamilton is pursuing a career as a professional surfer. She is busy trying to rebuild her surfing career at the Roxy Women's Surf Festival in Australia.

"People I don't even know come up to me. I guess they see me as a symbol of courage and inspiration. One thing hasn't changed and that's how I feel when I'm riding a wave. It's like, 'here I am. I'm still here. It's still me and my board'," Hamilton writes on her website.

In round three of the pro junior division she surfed against Hareb, beating the New Zealander into second place, though both progressed to later rounds.

"I've become friends with her over the last year as I've seen her at a few comps," said Hareb. "She's really inspirational. She is so strong considering what has happened to her."

Hareb said that on Tuesday, when she was losing her heat, Hamilton drove her on to qualify for the next round. "I needed a wave in the last couple of minutes and she was, like 'c'mon Paige, you can do it, don't give up'. That was pretty cool. You don't usually get that from your competitors but she's really nice.

"She's an awesome surfer, too. I don't know how she stands up, she's awesome."

Hamilton has a custom-made board that makes it easier for her to paddle, but standing up and surfing has been re-learned.

Hareb is one of six New Zealanders at the Roxy. In the next few weeks the goofy-footer (left-foot dominant) will travel to the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Coff's Harbour to compete. Like Hamilton, she hopes to turn professional.

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