BIG BUMP: Local surfer Hamish Murray, of Ballina, believes he encountered a shark during his surf on Saturday.
BIG BUMP: Local surfer Hamish Murray, of Ballina, believes he encountered a shark during his surf on Saturday. Marc Stapelberg

Surfer has a close shave with shark

VETERAN surfer Hamish Murray was enjoying the waves on Saturday morning at Flat Rock when he was suddenly thrown a metre into the air after being hit with a force as strong as a tackle from underneath the water.

By the time he surfaced he couldn't see anything, but surmised he had just had a close encounter with a shark.

It was 11am on Saturday morning and the East Ballina resident remembers there were plenty of dolphins, including babies, swimming around. They had just cruised by and all was pretty quite and calm, he said.

"Out of the blue something hit me," he said.

"It came from underneath and drove me up into the air about a metre, and off the board."

He didn't see it coming and the blow came with such force it felt like he had 'been tackled', he said.

He yelled, grabbed his board and caught the first wave in.

"It was quite a shock," he said.

There was another surfer quite close by, and "I just saw a look in his eye before he started paddling into shore," Mr Murray said.

In the car park the other surfer also thought it had to be a shark, he said.

About a half dozen other surfers came in at that time, "so maybe they saw something too," he said.

There was no chance the incident was going to get in the way of a good surf, and Mr Murray was back in the water on Sunday morning, enjoying a classic summer day on the Ballina coast.

He has lived in the area for 36 years and grew up in Byron Bay.

"I have surfed every day I possibly can; sharks are just a part of that," he said.

One close encounter with a shark in 30-40 years of surfing was pretty good odds, he said

"Especially if I can get away with it," he said.

The water was pretty clear on Saturday morning, but there was a lot of activity in the water, he said.

As a veteran surfer, he has noticed a seasonal lift in water life activity that tends to come closer to autumn, but this year it has come earlier, he said.

Being close to the Richmond River mouth also increased activity in the area, he said.

There have been numerous shark sighting across the Northern Rivers coast over summer, but not all of them verified.

On Saturday, Belongil Beach at Byron Bay was closed after a shark sighting was reported.

The week before the opening of Tallow beach was delayed will a shark sighting was investigated.

According to the Australian Shark Attack File by John West from Sydney's Taronga Zoo, the number of shark attacks around the country has risen from 6.5 incidents per year in 1990-2000, to 15 incidents per year from 2001 to 2010. There were 14 unprovoked attacks in 2012 and 10 in 2014. The rise in attacks coincides with an increasing human population.