So Monday night I happened to be scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as one does before hitting the hay, and I stumbled across a poor gentlemen who was almost attacked by Killer Whales while surfing a contest in Norway. Believable? Nah. The source, questionable at best. Plus there’s been no recorded Orca attacks on humans in the wild. I knew it was click bait, but I HAD to click! Click bait fever got me good. So through I went, and what do you know, South Africa’s very own Shannon Ainslie was busy surfing a contest in Norway, the Lofoten Masters when a group of three Killer Whales swam through the contest area. No it doesn’t look like an attack, but the Norwegian Orca Organization does verify that he was under attack by the three Free Willy’s which then aborted mission when the Willy’s realised that this willy wasn’t apart of their diet. Sho! Close one Shanny! Watch the footage here. But this ain’t Shannon’s first rodeo. When he was 15 years old (18 years ago) Shannon was attacked by two Great Whites while surfing Nahoon Reef, and it was, at the time, the only ever attack by a Great White on a human caught on camera. We have to consider that 18 years ago not everybody walked around with GoPros in their mouths like they do now, and it was 5 and 6 years before Facebook and Youtube were invented consecutively.
So we caught up with Shannon to find out how he handled the whole Free Willy ordeal, and how on earth he managed to shake that hair raising experience and place second in the contest.
Cover Image: Schalk Burger
Zag: Hey Shannon, what’s happening!? It’s been a long time!
Shannon: Wazzup! Yes it’s been too long…but all good this side!!
Zag: So you were surfing in the Lofoten Masters when you were almost attacked by three Orcas. Run us through what happened?
Shannon: Haha yeah the encounter was so scary but incredible at the same time! I had just paddled back after catching a wave in the semi final of the Lofoten Masters and then saw this big dark thing coming straight towards me with a lot of speed and with water and bubbles moving around it. As it got under the nose of my board it kinda turned and looked at me and I could see the white belly! As it happened I quickly sat up to get my feet on the board and then I saw another orca coming towards me but it slowed down and turned in front of me. It could have attacked me I guess but they’re so intellengent they must have realized at the last second that I wasn’t food! There were 2 BIG ones and a calf! As they swam past I raised my hands to the sky and claimed it! I was so happy to be alive and to have experienced Orcas that close to me!
Zag: Did you think they were going to attack you? Or did you think they were just swimming past?
Shannon: The thought ran threw my mind for sure! ! It happened soooo quickly that for the first split second I didn’t know what it was. I knew it couldn’t have been a shark because it’s Norway, but when I saw the white belly and how big it was I knew it was an Orca. Then I thought that if it wanted to go for me I would be dead because they hunt the sharks that hunt me haha. I was so relieved when they cruised past!
Zag: And then you went on to place second in the contest! Hahaha. Well done bro! How did you manage to shake off your near death experience to make a come back like that?
Shannon: Haha thanks! Well I think my adrenaline was still pumping through my veins and think it might have kept me going haha. But I know Orcas are intellenent and social towards humans so I wasn’t afraid they would come back for me in the final. Fortunately they’re not like sharks!
Zag: Shannon, this isn’t your first rodeo, you were attacked by two G-Whites at Nahoon Reef back in 2000. You seem to be a pro at handling dangerous wildlife!
Shannon: Yeah I was attacked in 2000. I don’t know what it is about me!! Maybe it’s my smell, or my looks? Haha!! I’ve had 2 other shark encounters on top of that and even had a seal go for me. And now this! All I can say is that God must be looking after me and I’m super thankful for that!!
Zag: We heard that you’re close shark encounters have inspired you to develop a shark repellent… Can you tell us a bit about it?
Shannon: Yes they have indeed. My brother and I have been working on shark repellents the last few years and has been a super fun journey. We have come across things that work a little and some that aren’t good for the environment. At the moment we have worked with some American guys on a repellent called Sharktec. It works off smell and is 100% environmentally friendly and works really well! We are selling them in South Africa at the moment and are working on developing the product into a more surfer friendly product. Exciting times!
Zag: Okay, thanks for your time Shannon. We can’t wait to have you back in J-Bay! When do you return?
Shannon: Anytime guys! I reckon I’ll be back in November or December. Can’t wait! Thanks for reaching out.
You can watch a little edit of Shannon shredding it up below.