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Shark attacks prompt cancellation of Margaret River Pro surfing event

Shark attacks prompt cancellation of Margaret River Pro surfing event
April 18, 2018

The Margaret River Pro surfing competition has been cancelled by organisers due to safety concerns following two shark attacks near Gracetown.

The event had been suspended on Tuesday amid poor conditions, but in a statement issued this morning, World Surf League (WSL) Chief Executive Sophie Goldschmidt said the event could not continue.

In the statement, Goldschmidt advised “the WSL puts the highest premium on safety.”

The attacks on recreational surfers on Monday took place just hours and kilometres apart, about 6 kilometres away from the primary event site at Main Break.

Alejandro Travaglini, aged 37, needed surgery to both legs after he was attacked at Cobblestones beach, while 41-year-old Jason Longrass walked to an ambulance after he was bitten on the leg at nearby Lefthanders break.

Brazilian professional surfer Gabriel Medina - who along with Italo Ferreira said he did not feel safe competing in the Margaret River region in the wake of the attacks - welcomed the decision to cancel the rest of the event.

Medina told the ABC “safety is the main thing … there is risk, but I don't want to wait for something to happen to us.”

The former world champion described Margaret River as the most dangerous place to surf in the world, and said he was unlikely to return, adding "I don't think it's safe to surf.

"Even the locals, they always see sharks here … I will never surf by myself here because it's not safe.

"I don't think I'm going to surf here in the contest again. They're still talking about next year but I will probably not come.”

By contrast, retired professional Taj Burrow, who lives in nearby Yallingup, criticised the decision to cancel the competition.

Saying organisers made the wrong call to can the event, Burrow advised "I just think the risk is so minimal.

"Probably the (big) waves they surfed on the first day of the event were a lot riskier than the possibility of a shark attack.

"It's just one of the things that comes with surfing and competing in the ocean.

"It's obviously safer in the competition area because they've got a few options for spotting sharks. It's very well monitored."

Burrow said the decision would have a devastating impact on local businesses and tourism.

Goldschmidt said surfing carried various forms of risk, but the cancellation of the event was necessary after the attacks.

She advised “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.”

An examination of the victims' surfboards has revealed a great white shark was involved in both attacks, although it is not clear if the same shark was responsible. 

Images: The venue for the Margaret River Pro (top) and action from the event (below).

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