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Shark attacks surf ski boat off Australia’s south coast

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Unaware of the danger below, Nat Drummond paddled his kayak-like surf ski on Sunday morning, racing dozens of competitors off Australia’s southern coast.

“My ski kind of got up above the water,” Drummond told 9News. “The next thing I knew, I was in the air, then I was in the water.

“And then I saw this figure fall back into the water,” he added. “It was a big shark.”

Drummond, 19, was one of about 65 surf skiers covering more than nine miles in the Gulf of St. Vincent along the coast near Adelaide, said Craig Burton, race director for South Australian Ocean and Surf Ski Paddlers, at the Washington Post. Drummond had barely done 20 seconds of racing when a shark surged from the depths and ripped off a piece of his surf ski, flipping the watercraft and throwing him into the water.

65-year-old surfer survives shark attack in New South Wales

Drummond relied on his training, he told reporters the day of the incident. He ripped off the leg rope that attached him to his surf ski and started swimming towards other competitors who, having witnessed what happened, ran to help. They pulled him out of the waters of the gulf. Rescuers transferred him to their boat and brought him back to shore.

As official timekeeper, Drummond’s father Murray watched the start of the race from the shore, the elder Drummond told reporters. It had barely started when he noticed a stir on the water, then paddlers pulling in different directions. Murray suspected a false start and quickly recalibrated the timer on his iPad.

Then he heard on the radio that the surfers had encountered a shark. Murray said he still wasn’t worried. He knew sharks roamed these waters and the sightings were not unusual. Even when he learned that the shark in question had bitten one of the surf skis, Murray thought things didn’t sound too bad. He only panicked when he saw the ‘massive hole’ in his son’s watercraft and couldn’t see the color of his life jacket as he looked out into the water.

“My heart just sank,” he said.

Then, he spotted his son – beaming – on the lifeboat as he disembarked.

“The emotion left me,” Murray said.

He ran to his son, hugged him and showered him with “I love you”.

“You don’t realize how much you absolutely love your kids until something like this happens.”

Murray said he was proud of his son, who has been in water sports since he was 6 years old. He and the paddlers who pulled him out of the gulf relied on years of training to prevent an unfortunate situation from turning into an untold tragedy.

“They all regrouped,” he said. “They didn’t row away from him, and that’s what you expect from the surf lifesaving community.”

Shark mania in the United States began with this attack more than a century ago

Sunday’s race has been canceled and organizers say they hope to reschedule.

Drummond seems to be fine, his father says – much better than his parents. In fact, he’s more worried about the shark than himself. Officials recovered a tooth and flesh from Drummond’s surf ski and sent it for analysis, Danny Willetts, director of Surf Life Saving South Australia, told reporters. Researchers hope to determine the species and size of the shark which, after falling back into the water, escaped authorities’ efforts to find it.

Willetts said officials believe the shark could be a great white but are awaiting confirmation.

Drummond told reporters he knew he was lucky. The shark bit off a piece of his surf ski where his legs used to be, race director Burton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Had he struck from a different angle, “it might have been a different story.”

Instead, Drummond escaped without a scratch.

“I could buy a lottery ticket,” he said.

Drummond called his brush with the shark “an absolute freak accident…one in a million thing that probably won’t happen again in my lifetime.” As the Australian summer approaches, he said, he hopes the news of what happened will not scare people away from getting into the water, which he appreciated all his life.

When asked how Drummond was coping, Willetts said he expected to be back on the water in a few days.

“It’s part of his identity,” Willetts said. “It’s part of who he is.”

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