Review: Patting The Shark // Tim Baker

Gra Murdoch
The Depth Test

Hanging around the margins on a typically pissed up Bells presso night – back in the early ’90s when surf mags had some currency – I had a shout-above-the-din conversation with a fella from Tracks we’ll call Northo. 

Northo was aggrieved. Tim Baker had recently left his position as Tracks editor and relocated to Burleigh to edit Australia’s Surfing Life. ASL’s canny publisher Peter Morrison used similar strategies to lure Tim as he had to recruit myself as a designer eighteen months earlier: simply describing the view from the office – occupying the beachfront façade of the Old Burleigh Theatre Arcade, looking directly into the eye of Burleigh Point. Before-and-after-work surfs, lunchtime surfs, anytime surfs. Who could resist?

Northo’s demeanour was much like that of a jilted lover looking for reasons he and Tracks were better off without Baker, yelling in my ear, “Yeaahmate, fucken Tim. He just fucken writes about himself ay.”

Well, not really, Northo. Show me a surf mag editor / writer who never makes an appearance in their own reporting or narrative, and I’ll bare my arse in Bourke Street, as the saying goes.

Anyway, it may have taken three decades, but Northo’s spray turned out to be prescient as Timbo’s finally gotten around to really writing about himself.

Back in 2015, and out of nowhere, Tim was diagnosed with incurable, stage four prostate cancer. It had already spread beyond the prostate and metastasised in his femur and a rib. The prognosis was five years, give or take, depending on his response to treatment. 

In the flurry of appointments, scans, tests and treatments that follow the diagnosis  – as Tim and his amazing wife Kirsten are swiftly shunted in what Christopher Hitchens calls “firm deportation from the country of the well to land of the malady.” Tim’s not only knocked for six by existential dread and terror, he’s also struck by the stark deficiencies of a medical system he knows he’s lucky to access: From the outset, his overworked, seemingly indifferent oncologist immediately shuts down the possibility that anything other than chemotherapy and emasculating hormone treatment could influence Tim’s prognosis and quality of life – despite evidence that diet, exercise, meditation and alternative drugs can play a role. 

Indeed, Tim finds himself in a desolate no-man’s land: with harsh, debilitating-but-life-prolonging treatments delivered via a fractured, overloaded network on one side, unsubstantiated snake-oil quackery at the other, far extreme. And so this book details Tim’s efforts, as both curious journo and desperate cancer patient, taking it upon himself to assemble the disparate jigsaw puzzle of what a truly integrated, wholistic, evidence-based, disciplined and humane approach to care, treatment and living could be. 

In many ways, Tim was well prepared for this endeavour. As long as I’ve known him, he’s thrived at the intersection of contrasting approaches to life. The former front fella of noisy three-chord pub-rock band Captain Keg and The Frothies also attending ten-day silent meditation retreats; the bloke who’d track down Tom Curren for a one-question mag interview (“Is it ever OK to wee in the shower?”) would himself recycle his household grey water back into his vege garden twenty years before permaculture was a thing. In other words, Tim’s never let attachment to any one operating system blind him to the way differences can complement and harmonise.

Seven years since diagnosis, Tim’s in terrific health, but this book is not a triumphant “I beat cancer, you can too,” memoir. The honesty and detail with which he and his family’s suffering is described, the dark nights of the soul, the suicide ideation, it’s fricking harrowing. Not even at the conclusion of the book is there a sense of the journey being over, the battle won, no #fuckcancer dismissiveness. Learning to be at peace with the ever-present spectre of an abridged mortality – being as OK as you can be with uncertainty, with no solid ground underfoot – is as much a victory as anything. 

As a title, 'Patting The Shark' is an inspired metaphor: fight or flight are both useful instincts, but sometimes no amount of punching or paddling is going to help – the predator ain’t going away, so accepting its presence, being curious about it, allows you to understand it better so as to exist in its company. I’ve explained it poorly here, Tim does it far better.

Other than family, surfing is Tim’s true joy, and the salvation of surfing is deftly woven through the pages. It’s a mark of Tim’s skill that surfers won’t feel like the saltwater experience and meaning is dumbed-down, whilst non-surfers are given enough explanation to get clear snapshots of our extraordinary world. And speaking of extraordinary worlds, Tim researches and explores first-hand the clinical application of psychedelics and cannabinoids as part of the wholistic armoury of treatment.

At some stage, many of us Swellnet readers will find ourselves stumbling out of a doc’s office, knocked for six by a confronting diagnosis. In which case, having read this book will be of no small comfort and help. 

But regardless of that eventuality – as surfers and mortals, with love and fear in our hearts - this is so very worth reading. I’m sure Northo would approve.

// GRA MURDOCH

'Patting The Shark' is published by Penguin and is available online

Comments

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 3:27pm

Cheers Gra, great review. Good luck to ya Tim.

billie's picture
billie's picture
billie Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 3:46pm

Bloody hell. My worst nightmare is to get sick and abandon my young fella. I'm off to the doctors PRONTO!!!

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
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DudeSweetDudeSweet Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 3:47pm

Geez, I was getting it anyway as Baker has entertained and inspired over the years. Gra’s words make it impossible to refuse.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 3:55pm

It's just a blood test. Get it checked. I started at 40.

billie's picture
billie's picture
billie Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 6:05pm

Will do thanks. I thought they stuck a finger up your bum?

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 8:18pm

Nope just a simple PSA test these days. https://prostates.com.au/prostate-cancer/what-is-a-psa-test/

Great chance to get the rest of your blood checked while you're at it, hormones too! https://www.healthline.com/health/blood-tests#top-blood-tests

Oh and check ya nuts! https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/testi...

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 9:44pm

PSI test yearly but also get a Digit up ya Date..

Solitude's picture
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Solitude Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 3:57pm

Did not know this about Tim. All the very best to you and your family. Will be ordering my copy today.

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
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DudeSweetDudeSweet Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 4:09pm

Great title BTW.

Patting the shark.

Remigogo's picture
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Remigogo Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 6:18pm

Sounds like it could be a bit of a tear jerker. I might get Tim to read this one out for me.

H2O's picture
H2O's picture
H2O Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 8:26pm

If your over 50 , get the lot every 12 months - bloods, echo cardiogram , stress tests physical examination, etc. There are heaps of Dr's that practice "above the line" medicine -that is keeping you out of trouble rather that fixing the fault. Early diagnosis the key + your usual (hopefully) good health practices , diet ,exercise and sleep. Good luck Tim! Recommending this book to my daughters fiancé , 34 years , stage 4 bowel cancer Fck.

dinnerdish's picture
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dinnerdish Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 8:29pm

I haven't read the book but my assumption from the write-up I'd have to say Tim's definitely on a path to freedom of this mind/body illusion. You have my blessings all the way Tim Baker. In breathe ( I am not this body) out breathe ( I am also not this mind)

Tim Baker's picture
Tim Baker's picture
Tim Baker Monday, 15 Aug 2022 at 9:32pm

Cheers dinnerdish, I really like that. Thanks for all the kind comments and Gra's very generous review.

greg-n.williams's picture
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greg-n.williams Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 4:41am

Tim I'll be reading your book & look fwd. to some insights on how to deal with my own mortality after a recent diagnosis(1mnth ago) where i was told I have an incurable condition that will eventually take me out of this world. Diet, lifestyle & fitness will help me(hopefully) to prolong my life beyond the worst case senario of 5 yrs! Sleeping has been a battle as my mind grinds through the issues I'm forced to now face but my resilence is good as I look towards the positives & try not to dwell on the negatives that life deals us! Enjoy everyday people as you never know what may be coming your way in this journey we call life!

batfink's picture
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batfink Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 8:30am

Good luck to you Mr Williams. Great write up Gra, and Tim, great to hear you’re in good shape. Fighting that terror diagnosis is not on my list of things I want to do in life. If it comes, I hope I can face it with aplomb, and a bit of courage.

Trying to slip myself out of an existential funk, reading this book might just help to jolt me into action.

Fireblade's picture
Fireblade's picture
Fireblade Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 9:56am

Good luck to you greg-n.williams.

A few years ago, I was told the same thing. So I wrote this to myself:

'Nobody asked to be born, and everybody dies... the only contentious issues in life are those actions that you have any control over. This may not be Zen, but to me, there are two choices: cringe in the corner in the foetal position sucking your thumb; or simply get on with it.'

My friends tell me that it changed me, and I guess it did. Life seems much clearer to me now. I've long known that you're never as dialed in as when you might die; approaching 300km/h on my bike, or stepping over the edge at the Point, spider senses on full alert. Now all of life seems that way because the cancer is death inside me, and life is just so much more dialed in.

Go figure?!?

Panman's picture
Panman's picture
Panman Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 6:41am

Definitely get that blood test every year my doctors advice was keep surfing.
Great title and great journalism

Dillosurf's picture
Dillosurf's picture
Dillosurf Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 8:56am

Yeah guys get the PSA test as you hit 50. Mine started going up a bit at 62, got the urologist onto it, did the digital then a biopsy ( which is much less prone to complications these days). There was cancer but it was early so they whipped the prostate out with robotic surgery. You can recover quite quickly. I was back in the water after a few weeks.
All the best Tim.

andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt's picture
andrew-pitt Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 1:35pm

Stay strong Tim. Love your writing.

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 2:22pm

Will be buying this book. Thank you for write up, and all the best to you Tim...

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022 at 6:04pm

Great review, Gra.

Don't forget that a positive test is NOT a death sentence - for several reasons. Tests are never conclusive, and a false positive can wreak havoc on your life. I learnt a lot from reading this book:

https://www.penguin.co.nz/books/reckoning-with-risk-9780141933085

Fireblade's picture
Fireblade's picture
Fireblade Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 9:16am

Cancer sucks.

Mine's in remission, and I go in every six months for the full array of tests (the Alfred Hospital is a world leader in treatment, and all the costs are covered by government, so I'll never complain about paying tax again). Then I'm told "there's no recurrence" and off I go once more. Eventually it will manifest itself as a brain tumor.

It's funny, as surfers, we deliberately put ourselves in harm's way. This is different. This is harm reminding me that it's coming to get me anyway. Oh well, shit happens...

Life is like a close-out: if you don't go, you'll never know...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 10:43am

For those who are interested, Tim is on Conversations, ABC Radio today.

ABC local at 11am, RN this afternoon at 3pm.

slowman's picture
slowman's picture
slowman Friday, 19 Aug 2022 at 11:03am

I was lucky enough to catch it as I drove to pick up the kids after school. Sarah kept saying Tim and I'm thinking Tim Bonython? Became clear eventually, but it was a great interview, no bullshit, just Tim's naked truth about his surprise, horror and shock not just with the diagnosis but the whole process.

You can listen to it here https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/tim-baker-surfing-wr...

JulianB's picture
JulianB's picture
JulianB Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 10:46am

A great read. An unflinching look at mortality and ill heath.
Thanks for writing it Tim and I hope your condition holds steady.
I got an early diagnosis of prostate cancer and had mine removed, linked with eating pretty well, surfing, yoga. I will never know know, but suspect stress was a big factor for me.
As others have encouraged, get your blood tested.
Anyway, I think there are a few waves about, so out there.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 11:18am

Tim on the radio right now.

Doing real good.

BlueySWWA's picture
BlueySWWA's picture
BlueySWWA Thursday, 18 Aug 2022 at 2:23pm

Just listened to Tim on ABC radio "Conversations". Thank-you Tim for your courage and honesty. This is real and men need to talk about it, hence the reason for me adding my comments.
Just like Tim, I too had a surf this morning - nothing special, but great for the soul to have a paddle with a mate and catch a couple of beachies. It could have been different. 18 months ago after doing a blood test I was surprised that my PSA level was higher than expected (only 8) and I was referred to a urologist. Turns out, I had an aggressive prostate cancer which was removed. through robotic surgery. My bladder function recovery was amazing which I put down to strong core strength through surfing, but I am still working on getting the nerve function back. My PSA level now is zero - thank goodness.
I celebrated my 1 year anniversary sans prostate with a surf trip at the Telos and I am thankful to my wife who urged me to "get those tests done", even though I had no symptons at all.
So, guys if you are wondering if you should, let me assure you that ignorance is not bliss.

greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams Friday, 19 Aug 2022 at 5:23am

Thanx for the encouagement brothers. Surfing is my Holy Grail & life goes on even if it is a battle @ times. Have ordered "Patting the Shark" through my library looking fwd. to reading it Tim! Life is a journey where a fork in the road can lead to you facing your deamons & the reality is that we all live in the moment, no matter who you are! I'm still here in this moment & I know that a lot of others are worse off than me or not with us any more!

Seaweed's picture
Seaweed's picture
Seaweed Friday, 19 Aug 2022 at 6:25am

All the best to you Tim, your story telling has taken me on so many great and hilarious journeys over the years I feel I somehow know you even though we’ve never met. So thanks and thanks again.

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Friday, 19 Aug 2022 at 10:09pm

Take care Greg and all the best in your journey, Tim was driving to and around Nannup listening to you on conversations, inspiring, thought full and courageous stuff , admit to feeling uncomfortable at times thanks for the honesty.

As surfing is one big adventure and we all face our coming mortality isn't death the next big adventure?

Hopefully.

Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68 Friday, 19 Aug 2022 at 10:32pm

Appreciate everyone that has openly shared their cancer journeys. Powerful & courageous. Good vibes to you all.

Barry Rogers's picture
Barry Rogers's picture
Barry Rogers Sunday, 21 Aug 2022 at 12:24am

Nice work Tim have just purchaed novel , yet to read, but felt i needed to debut on social media . Science ain't the answer here . At 51,diagnosed during COVID,finger up bum,MRI ,etc. was told to discuss with family and no rush , as IT was contained and time is on your side.If not for my wife initially recognising symptoms ,being in Natural Medicine game , and having power to push things forward quickly , it would have been a different world. I had Robotics and Biopsy done , it was riddled and they were unsure how it remained contained, mentioning to thank the person who told me to get tested , I will do that one day. Diet , exercise and packing a real closeout ( 6 months ) are without the greatest winners . Ignorance is sinking heaps of PISS ! The Devil eats white bread and drinks boutique beer.

ghorro31's picture
ghorro31's picture
ghorro31 Sunday, 21 Aug 2022 at 6:58pm

And don’t forget to have a skin check for all those nasties (occupational hazard for us) and if you are over 50 just do the bowel cancer check.