LISMORE - "I'm happy to be alive and to have all my limbs." They were the first words that Linda Whitehurst said after being released from the Emergency Department at Byron Bay Hospital yesterday after she was attacked by a three-metre great white shark off Main Beach.
Linda and her husband Glen were paddling surf skis about 150 metres from shore and heading back to the beach at the time of the attack.
"We were riding the waves back in and I saw this big thing underneath me. At first I thought maybe it was a dolphin or a turtle so I kept paddling. Then I turned around and saw this big dark object and I knew it was a shark
thought, 'oh my God' and screamed and tried to scare the shark."
Glen was paddling in his own 6m surf ski when he heard his wife scream and saw the shark attack her.
"It lifted itself out of the water and onto the back of the boat. It had the back of her boat in its mouth and gave it a good shake," he said.
Linda was knocked into the water.
Glen said that after she was knocked out of the boat she went underwater and at that stage he was 'very concerned'.
"I thought this is it, he's going to grab my leg or ankle," Linda said.
But the couple, who spend a lot of time in the water and described themselves as 'competitive water sports people', had discussed what to do if they ever found themselves in a situation where they were attacked by a shark. Linda says she didn't panic and that adrenalin took over.
"I just tried making as much motion and noise as I could to show the shark that I'm bigger and stronger than it, " Linda said. "I got my blade (paddle) and was punching the shark in the face as hard as I could.
"I saw a program on SBS TV just last week about sharks and surf skis. I'm fascinated by shark attacks," she said.
"I saw that look in its eye that I've seen so many times before on TV.
"We've talked about it a lot, " Glen said. "The policy is if it goes for you, then you go for it. "
Linda managed to beat the shark away and swim back to her surf ski which had drifted away. Glen told her to swim over to his surf ski, but hers was closer. She managed to get back in and paddle to shore.
"You just go. The adrenalin is pumping so fast that you can do anything," she said.
Linda, a registered nurse, used to work at Byron Bay Hospital. She said she wasn't panicked once she was out of the water. Glen drove her to the hospital where she was treated for a cut she got hitting the shark and got four stitches in her forearm.
The couple said that they were looking forward to having a relaxing, romantic day together after their kids had gone back to school after two weeks of school holidays.
They seemed surprisingly level-headed after their ordeal and were happy to talk to the media, saying they hoped their experience could help others who might find themselves in a similar situation.
"Every year at this time there are great whites around here," Glen said. "We know we live with them. It's their backyard."
Stephen Leahy, the co-ordinator of the Northern NSW Lifeguard Service said: "No beach is ever 100 per cent safe, but there is nothing to suggest that the shark is still in the area."
"We will work with the local police to continue to monitor the beaches over the next few days."
A group of English backpackers on the beach said they would go back in.
"Maybe I won't go too deep though," said Mark Fenson.
"I might send my friends in first," said Dean Cowan.
- LISMORE NORTHERN STAR