Two shark incidents were reported just 15 kilometers away from the Margaret River Pro event location. The competition was called off, then on, then off again. Today, WSL has reached the decision to cancel it altogether.
Here’s a statement released by Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO:
“Today, the WSL has made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the Margaret River Pro, as a result of exceptional circumstances surrounding this season’s event regarding sharks and the safety of our surfers. This decision has been reached after many hours of consultation with a variety of stakeholders and experts.
The WSL puts the highest premium on safety. This cannot be just talk, and it cannot be compromised. Surfing is a sport that carries various forms of risk, and is unique in that wild animals inhabit our performance environment. Sharks are an occasional reality of WSL competitions, and of surfing in general. Everyone associated with our sport knows that. There have been incidents in the past — and it’s possible that there will be incidents in the future — which did not (and will not) result in the cancellation of an event. However, current circumstances are very unusual and troubling, and we have decided that the elevated risk during this season’s Margaret River Pro has crossed the threshold for what is acceptable.
On April 16th (local time), two separate shark attacks occurred at nearby Gracetown – approximately 6 kilometers away from the primary event site at Main Break. The presence of beached whales in the area has attracted sharks and contributed to the aggression of their behavior, which, experts agree, has increased the possibility of further attacks. These findings have resulted in nearby locations being closed to surfing and swimming.
We are committed to being as prepared as possible for what nature throws at us. The WSL maintains strong and constantly-improving safety, monitoring and support infrastructure and protocols, and we would normally have a high degree of confidence in our ability to protect our athletes. However, the threshold has been crossed for the organization and if we decided to continue the event under the current circumstances, and something terrible were to take place, we would never forgive ourselves.
We are painfully aware that this decision will have commercial ramifications for the local community, and will disappoint some of our partners, fans and athletes. We sincerely regret that.
Our competitive structure allows for points distribution in the event of a cancellation. However, we are not giving up yet on somehow completing both men’s and women’s competition this year, and will communicate our thoughts on that when we know more.
Margaret River is a special venue, with incredible partners. It has produced many memorable moments over the years, and at the moment we have no plans not to return in the future.
We appreciate that not everyone will agree with this decision, but hope that they will respect it. Athlete safety will always be our absolute priority and we thank the local community, our partners and our surfers for supporting the decision.”
What some of the competitors are saying:
In two separate Instagram posts, Gabriel Medina states, “Today they had two shark attacks on a beach close to where we’re competing. I do not feel safe training and competing in this kind of place, any time anything can happen to one of us. Hope not. Leaving my opinion before it’s too late!” “Thanks to @wsl who first cared about the safety of all athletes and canceled the event due to recent events. Thank you and until the next event.”
Italo Ferreira also shared on his Instagram account a similar point stating, “Two shark attacks in less than 24 hours here in Australia, detail, just a few miles from where the event is being held. Very dangerous do not you think? even so, they keep insisting on doing steps where the risk of having this type of accident is 90%, so I ask: is not the safety of athletes a priority? We already had several alerts. Life is worth more! I hope it does not happen to any of us. I do not feel comfortable training and competing in places like this!”
“I think they made a smart decision cancelling the event with all the aggressive activity recently with the sharks. I think right now it’s really more risk than normal. I’m used to surfing sharky zones, so for me, anything would have been fine, but it’s great to see that the WSL is really putting our safety as a top priority.” – Tatiana Weston-Webb on The Inertia.
“Competition cancelled! Home bound! It’s been a pleasure WA! See you again soon!” – Julian Wilson
“Every time I paddle out to surf somewhere where there are lots of sharks I take a minute to come to grips that if it is my time to go it’s my time. I love the ocean and I love to surf and that is my way of being comfortable sharing the lineup with sharks. That being said, I 100 percent respect that other surfers don’t feel comfortable continuing the event here in WA and also totally back the decision the @wsl has made to hopefully finish this event elsewhere in the next several months. A huge thank you to @surfing_wa for rolling out the red carpet for us here and making this a special event for us.” – Conner Coffin
So, what do we expect next? A part of the statement says that the WSL is not giving up on completing this year’s competition just yet. Does this mean going back to Margaret River when it’s clear of sharks or finishing the event somewhere else? We all just have to wait and see.
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