Laeticia Brouwer, a seventeen-year-old surfer lost her life to a shark yesterday, and shortly afterwards her devastated parents were forced to give the press their thoughts about her life – presumably, so they’d leave them alone to begin the grieving process.
‘She died doing what she loved,’ is a comment we hear often after these sorts of uncontrollable, unthinkable events; when death is caused by the hand of nature. In fact, what Laeticia was doing, was living. Just like when people get caught up in floods, tsunamis or earthquakes, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlucky. That shark had no idea that it had latched onto a human and not some salty old man version who had surfed his whole life and probably would have welcomed a death doing what he loved. No, she was a young girl with her whole life ahead of her.
What we need to remember is that as a surfer, she would have had an ingrained respect for the ocean. She would have known that she was a guest in the territory of others, even though I struggle with that mindset and have often questioned if it’s some surfer psychobabble they tell themselves to get back in the water after a scare. Since I’ve lived here, however, I honestly believe now that it is actually an unwritten agreement they make with nature for that first-hand privilege of being at one with it.
Anyway, what do I know? I struggle to put my toe in the water a millimeter beyond the lifeguards’ flags and according to scientists, I take greater risks with the amount of alcohol I drink every day.
Anti-shark protesters are inevitably baying for a cull because we don’t want the rest of the world to know that there are sharks in our oceans, and after two similar deaths in Western Australia last year, those sharks are getting a bit big for their boots. Let’s put to one side the recent increase in the death tolls from ocean rips and road accidents or the increase in youth suicide and domestic violence (leading to death) while we consider those statistics. Let’s forget that there are actually more attacks in the US, (and I’m not alluding to the results of Trump’s shaking finger on the button). Let’s overlook how sharks actually boost our tourism, and how virtually every Australian souvenir is plastered with the smiling, perfect dentistry of the Great White or how our zoos put on shows using their deadliest creatures as the star attraction, to fuel the perverse interest in how we Australians actually manage to leave our homes at all.
Part of the reason this story has stuck in the headlines, I believe, is because the victim was a young girl. Since Jaws, death by shark attack is everyone’s worst nightmare and somehow (unreasonably) it feels worse that a girl should have to go through such an ordeal. Such brutality should be reserved for tough young men, not girls, shouldn’t it?
Wrong. It made me proud to think that this girl was out there doing what she loved, in spite of the risks. Because she could, and because she chose to. Anyone who has seen the wonderful series, Puberty Blues, based on Kathy Lette’s books, will know that as late as the seventies, it was frowned upon for women to surf in certain cultures. It was seen as a man’s sport and women had to fight their way into the ocean.
I hope I go doing something I love, like Laeticia. I hope I go doing something that shows I was embracing my life to the full, and that I wasn’t afraid.