Jack Frost Joins The Bite Club
Coming from Ballina in northern NSW, Jack Frost was familiar with sharks. The 24-year old lived and surfed through the region's 'white terror' years, when a cluster of attacks had the surfing community on edge.
That was all behind him, or so he thought, as he paddled out to Boat Ramp bommie, near Margaret River, last Monday.
Jack was surfing solo, though he wasn't alone.
Swellnet: You're originally from Ballina. Why were you were over in WA?
Jack Frost: We left Ulladulla on the East Coast - I was living down there for close to a year - and then my girlfriend and I spent four months in South Oz just chasing waves. We came over to the West Coast to earn some coin and settle down for a bit. The plan was to hang around this area for a while, plus do a couple of stints up north, but I don't know...if I get nailed by another shark, I'll probably fuck off back to the East Coast.
How long have you been down south in WA for now?
Jack: Two months.
Hasn't been a great winter, has it?
Oh, it's been disgusting. It's been like 50 knots onshore and 50 mills of rain a week.
Yet it looked like a pretty good morning out at Boaties. Had you surfed the wave before?
No, I hadn't. And, I don't know, the conditions were pretty ordinary. I'd call it pretty average. It was a bit cross-shore, bit of devil wind blowing up the face, swell was like 3.7 [metres] in the morning and then it was just slowly dropping off. So I think by the time I was out there, it was only three metres on the buoys.
Was there anyone else out there?
There were a couple of blokes out in the morning and then I paddled out and they were like, "Oh, it's pretty shit out here." And they fucked off and went in.
Right. So you ended up alone?
Do you recall the moments leading up to the hit?
Yeah, I actually got a wave but it was a pretty shit one, and I'm like, 'Oh, I can't go in on that. I want to get something better'. I'd seen a couple nice ones with a bit of wall and that's what I had my eye on catching. But it wasn't happening, I was just sitting out the back and I wasn't feeling it. I started thinking, 'Oh, fuck this, I'm going in.'
I was sitting a bit wide of the lineup, or where I really should've been sitting. I think I kind of paddled out and didn't paddle up enough, so I was just kind of sitting in the channel. And then as I was sitting on my board it just fucking came up and smacked me.
From what direction?
From underneath. Just straight underneath. I got my board back today, the fisheries officer come and dumped it. So looking at the bite marks I think it came at me straight up from underneath.
The vision of it made it look like a big hit.
What I think happened is that it hit straight underneath and because I was sitting up on my board I got super lucky. It just nicked my leg. When I say 'nicked' I've still got a good gash on my leg and a couple puncture wounds a bit higher, but nothing crazy; nothing like what it could've been.
Anyway, it's hit me and I've done a kind of back flip off my board. Landed in the water and as I've surfaced, I'm thinking, 'What the fuck was that?'. It was getting into my board and holding it up in the air. The shark was kind of across me, one of its pectoral fins hit me in the groin area.
So you felt its skin, got a sense of its size?
Yeah. And then I ended up sort of spinning backwards. Kind of...what's the word? Not manhandled, but shouldered by it. But I just figured I'm not going to roll over for it, so I moved onto its back and started punching its head a few times. That doesn't really do much; it didn't even flinch. But then I started punching it in the side towards the gills and I must have got one punch in where it's touch sensitive and it just fucking shot down into the depths.
It went quiet and then I got back on my board. Thank fuck my legrope wasn't in its mouth.
My board's fucked, it's flexing through the middle. It's gone through the stringer.
Can we talk about the board for a moment?
8'1" Three inches thick, twenty wide.
Who made it?
Gunther Rohn. It's such a good shape. I love that thing. It turns so well and so good in big barrels. Last of its kind too. I can't get that glasser/shaper combo anymore because old Cleggie's [Mark Cleghorn] retired. So yeah, that board was pretty special to me.
It's gonna be remembered in more ways than one now.
Yeah, it's definitely going on the wall from now on.
OK, so back to the water, you've punched it and it's taken off, but I guess you've got no idea what happens next. What was going through your mind?
Yeah, I was pretty frightened at the start when I was on its back and then punching it. When it shot down I was thinking 'Fuck, where is this thing?' I'm on my board looking under the water and the water was so green, and then I've just realised that I had to paddle, and obviously it's a pretty big paddle too.
I started paddling straight into the impact zone, thinking that if I get in there I'm a little bit safer. I knew my leg had been dusted, but I didn't know how bad, and I didn't look either. The only thought was, 'Fuck, I need to get out of here'.
Yet no waves broke for a while.
No waves broke, mate. None the whole way in.
Were you expecting another hit? What was going through your mind?
I was just saying to myself, "You're going to be all right. You're going to survive." Just doing what I could to try and keep calm. I knew that if I got really tired my heart was going to run quicker, and if I did have a good cut then I was probably going to lose a lot of blood. So I was just trying to keep myself pretty calm but also head down, arse up on the way in.
I imagine some people lose their shit when terrified, but they all sound like rational actions, Jack. Have you had any prior experience with sharks?
I've always fished and dived. Done a lot of diving, though never with whites. I've seen whites in the surf before but never had that sort of encounter - obviously. I guess diving, and a few other sports that keep you mentally strong...I guess they all helped.
Sounds like you're a little bit more comfortable than the average person around sharks, would that be correct?
Oh fuck, I don't know, maybe...
Actually, I'm definitely not going to say yes to that one.
Fair enough. OK, how long do you think it took you to paddle in?
Fuck mate, honestly, no idea. That paddle in was all such a blur. Maybe a minute to get to the gutter? There's a little bit of reef you've got to cut through and I figured that if I can get to the gutter I'd look at my leg.
I looked at it and there was a bit of a gash there. There was a fair bit of blood in the water. So I took my leggy off and tied a tourniquet on my leg and then I really tried hard to bring my calmness down - controlled my breathing, focussed my mental state on getting to the shore.
You've still got to cross that last stretch of water where the waves back off.
Yeah, I still hammered it through that last stretch, though it was slower than the earlier pace. That first bit of paddling out the back, I was just absolutely going for it.
Once I was in there, I began thinking that I'm going to make it and I'm going to be alright. My leg wasn't mangled, I even had full mobility.
Had anyone seen it from land?
I've heard reports after the fact that some people saw it and they just blew it off. They were like, "Fuck did I just watch a shark attack?" But like I said, there was a lot of devil wind and spray coming off the face, and it's pretty far out. If you're just looking at it with your eyes and you're down at beach level, it would've been pretty fucken hard to tell.
Potentially, my mate might've even seen it. We had a coffee at the top of the carpark and he was kind of watching me surf and he might've seen it. He doesn't know. And there was another bloke who I had a coffee with this morning and he was like, "Oh, I think my mate might've watched it."
So did anyone come to your aid when you were approaching the beach?
Yeah, I ended up calling down some people just when I got to the shore. They were elderly and I didn't want to startle them. I'm like, "I'm okay, but I've been attacked by a shark." And they were both like, "Oh fuck."
After that, some other people came down there and I ended up taking my legrope fully off my board and strapping up my leg hard, really cranking on it a couple knots, then wrapping it, cranking it again. That stopped the bleeding. And then this chick took my board and I actually had to walk 150 metres up to the cafe where I was met by a random nurse. An off-duty nurse. She just happened to be there. These other people helped, they were all absolute legends, and they said they were going to call an ambulance.
I told them, "Look, I've got no coin, I don't really want to jump in the back of an ambo right now."
So they said, "That's OK, we'll drive you then." My car was just around the corner, I didn't want to get blood in their car, and she was like, "Nah, don't be stupid, get in."
So I ended up jumping in the back of this chick's car and then the nurse sat in the back with me and put pressure on my leg. They drove me to the hospital, they were both legends. The nurse called up the hospital and was asking all the questions and just got the hospital completely ready for me. So as soon as we got to Margs [Hospital] they knew everything. They were pretty much waiting for me at the front door and they were straight into it.
Good effort by everyone involved.
So whereabouts on your leg did it actually strike you?
I'd say halfway on my thigh in the middle of my thigh. Kind of on the top a bit.
How many stitches did you end up getting?
I don't know. They just stitched it up and now there's a dressing on it. It's a running stitch, that's all I know.
The incident puts you in a pretty rare club: people who've been hit by a white and survived. How are you reflecting on it?
I've been trying to think about it and process the whole incident. It could've been so different had the odds not been in my favour. I've taken the 10% that was in my favour and I've used it all. That was the way that someone put it to me. But I guess it's just one of those things that I've come out on top, which I'm grateful for.
Also, when I think about it. It hit me with pace. It was coming up from the depths and fast. I think that's probably what saved me because it hit me and threw me off my board, so that when it went my board and I wasn't on it.
Has anyone reached out to you that's been through similar sort of situation?
Well being from Ballina there's obviously been a few people who have been bitten and survived - and also sadly some people that haven't survived. So a few friends from over east have been like, "You're probably going to go through some shit. I'm here for you," which is really nice. Just knowing there's that support network. I don't have many mates over this side but just to feel love from back home has been amazing. I'm on the other side of the country and everyone's still behind me and wants to help me as much as possible.
That's great to hear, mate. When we started talking, you mentioned that you had travelling plans. Has anything changed?
Yeah, a little bit. We're going to take this time to recover. Just however long it takes me. And then, yeah, we might shoot up north for the end of the season and do some diving and fishing and maybe get the odd wave. But first we're going to see what the recovery time's like before we start making plans.
Diving and fishing. You're fully comfortable with that?
Yeah, a hundred percent. I'm keen to get back out there. I know I'm pretty lucky to have that experience and come out on top, but I think the longer I leave it, the worse it'll get.
I did a lot of solo surfing before this; surfed a lot of bommies and shit, which never really worried me. I think now I'll be a bit more cautious and be surfing with at least one other person.
Good idea. Thanks for your time, Jack.