Just a few minutes into the first elimination round heat on Day Two of the Rip Curl Rottnest Search at Strickland Bay, a shark was spotted in the water nearby, pausing the heat (1:36:30 in the video above). Griffin Colapinto, Jack Freestone, and Taj Burrow were competing for a spot in the round of 32 after losing in their respective seeding rounds, when the horn sounded and jet skis came whizzing in to collect the surfers.
As World Surf League Head of Competition Jessi Miley-Dyer explained, “We have a 200-meter radius that is an instant pull out for us… What we’re going to do now is have the plane and the drone sweep the area for us and when we’re absolutely sure [the shark] isn’t there we’ll restart.”
The rapid safety protocols have been in place since Mick Fanning’s extremely close call with a shark at J-Bay in 2015, where he literally fought off a great white shark in the middle of his heat. Now, there is constant surveillance by Jet Ski, boat, and drone whenever surfers are in the water, ready to sound the alarm should a shark appear. Not only is this for safety reasons, but as Ronnie Blakey explained, it’s for the competitors’ peace of mind as well, so they can surf in their heats and focus only on the waves without having to stay alert to underwater dangers as well.