1 June, 2014 1 June, 2014

Not Your Chum – by Gareth Billimore

An opinion piece by Cape Town local, Gareth Billimore, is this week’s featured story in our Write to Surf competition – which has some great prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


Not Your Chum – by Gareth Billimore

As winter begins to claw her way across our shores, my attention turns to the beaches five minutes from my front door. False Bay will always be home. Not because I’m a local at any particular spot – Cape Town is like that, some of us are a little nomadic and enjoy sampling the variety the Cape offers – but because it’s where I grew up surfing.


Man, those were the days. Danger Beach, after school, into the dusk of the autumn evenings. Muizenberg, kilometres out to sea in a washing machine of brown onshore soup whipped into a frenzy by an unrelenting South Easter. Kalk Bay, early Saturday mornings when the crew are still nursing hangovers or sleeping in the Bell car park. Cemetery on a low tide with your only concern being the safety of your car, standing lonely along Baden-Powell Drive. Swimming off the back of St James pool, out into the deep and back through the channel to the beach on the crystal clear flat days in summer.

My father, one of a number of Muizenberg locals in the 60s and 70s, recounts days that were even more carefree and fearless. These guys used to swim off the back of Kalk Bay harbour wall, toward St James. Sometimes even as far as Bailey’s Cottage.

The thought of jumping off the back of St James tidal pool alone, right now, in 2014, is Viagra for the hairs on my neck. Lately I’ve even stood and watched plenty good waves wash up our shores and not had even the slightest desire to be out there. Only one word comes to mind: shark.


Sharks and False Bay are synonymous these days, like peanut butter and jam. But you have to wade deep to get through all the sensationalism and opinion to find some strands of fact.

Sitting above Kalk Bay recently, the only ‘fact’ that I could recognise is the often repeated sentiment that when we go into the water, we enter the natural habitat of every species of fish out there, including the great white shark. Does chumming lead to attacks? I’m not sure. Has the protection of the great white sharks as a species led to more in-shore feeding and a few misdirected (or intentional?) attacks on humans  – it’s feasible, but not easy to prove. What about the sharp increase in reported shark sightings in recent years? One could argue they’ve been there all along – only now that we have Shark Spotters have they really come to ‘exist’ for many of us. Case in point: My father tells a story of how as school boys, they would swim as a group deep into the Muizenberg line-up, without surfboards, even in the dead of winter, clad only in school rugby jerseys and trunks. Whilst treading water out in the deep, a common prank was to submerge yourself and grab the legs of an unsuspecting member of the group. On one occasion however, he recalls how whilst deep beyond the Bailey’s Cottage line of sight, one of the crew was nudged from the dark unseen depths – without any of the gang having slipped below the surface. Nobody was taken that day and nothing more was made of it.


The debate about sharks, shark behaviour and shark attacks will continue to be a topic thrashed around over coffee or a couple of lagers. Until the next tragedy, at which point it’ll rage on around us in the frothed up waters of social media and print. The fatal 2012 attack on the young and gifted Springbok bodyboarder, David Lilienfeld at Caves, brought the issue so very sharply into focus once again, sparking grief filled anger and finger pointing. It ruptured the main vein of the sleepy Boland surfing subconscious, with even the most seasoned locals dressed down to their bare bones, recognising the true risk of surfing the banks at Caves. Measures were put in place to mitigate the risk (and fears) with the extension of the Shark Spotter program to the cliffs above Caves. A year later, after lengthy trials, a shark exclusion net strategy has been rolled out at Fish Hoek beach, further indication that authorities consider the situation a serious one.

Following a number of attacks a shark exclusion net has been tested at Fish Hoek beach.

I don’t believe that there is a long-term remedy to this situation. It’s the simple law of cause and effect playing itself out. Man has interfered with nature and we are seeing the results first hand. We are living in the fall out. Shark Spotters, shark shields, shark nets – these are merely bandages. Chumming, shark cage diving and even research – these are just offshoots, some of it taken by opportunists who seek to profit, seemingly unconcerned.

Everything changed way, way back, when man intervened and set in motion a chain of events which brings us to where we are today. Stop chumming – you’ll still have the numbers, increased in-shore feeding and apparent behavioural changes in the animals themselves, blamed for the increasing attacks on humans. Cull the fish and risk upsetting the newly established ecology of the Bay, established through the years in which the sharks have been protected. Besides, how can you be sure you’ve taken out one of the sharks with a taste for human or a ‘behavioural problem’ if such a thing exists?

The bottom line is that we are now living with the consequences of our action as people and it’s not something you can remedy overnight or ever cure completely. There may be a few more bandages to put on the festering wound but there’s no way back now. We will have to accept, adapt and try our level best to look after the ocean in a way that makes it safer for ourselves and future generations to enjoy.

For the time being, I’ll proceed with caution and enjoy the barrels of Kalk Bay and Danger Beach from up above on Boyes Drive.

Views expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent those of Zigzag.
Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on www.zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.



  1. Andre Van Kets
    2 June, 2014 at 6:05 pm · Reply

    I was up in The Wild Coast last month. According to some of the locals in Cintsa, who daren’t get wet these days without their pods fully charged and attached, the men in grey underpants are getting way more active in recent years. And there’s nought chumming for miles east and west. Hashtag just saying. May the mass debate commence.

  2. Graeme Goode
    2 June, 2014 at 7:09 pm · Reply

    Awesome piece Gareth… I remember surfing cemetery and Long Beach and seeing the odd shark or 2 back in the day – in the water and out the water. We didn’t care then – now we do.

  3. Cornelis
    3 June, 2014 at 6:59 am · Reply

    Nice Gareth!! Well written.

  4. JamieNye77
    17 July, 2014 at 6:49 am · Reply

    To comment on us humans living in the fallout of our actions..

    Seal island up to the 1930’s apparently had more birds on it than seals, resulting in a major build-up of guano (bird kak) which was highly valued, and plundered, at the time for various uses like agriculture, often referred to as white gold. Word is that eventually the constant human intrusions eventually caused many of the bird species (cape gannet, kelp gulls, great white pelicans) to no longer nest on the island, allowing an ever greater seal colony to fill the space, and vis-a-vis attract more sharks into False Bay than perhaps Nature intended. Kinda anecdotal, but food for thought no? (http://web.uct.ac.za/depts/stats/adu/sealfbay.htm)

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