Sean Doherty: Tweed Coast Shark Victim an “Old School Surfer Who Loved Good Waves”

8 Jun 2020 14 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH

Remembering Rob Pedretti

The surfer killed by a great white shark at Kingscliff on the NSW north coast yesterday is being remembered as “the easiest guy in the world to go surfing with”.

Sixty-year-old Rob Pedretti from Tugun had been surfing the outside bank off Salt Beach yesterday morning when he was bitten on the left thigh by a shark estimated to be over three metres. Two surfers nearby – one Rob’s surfing mate, the other a stranger – managed to get him to shore while fighting off the shark, which continued to circle. CW understands the shark came at them aggressively twice and there were fears the rescuers themselves would be attacked.

They heroically managed to get Rob across the deep gutter and back to the beach, but he died from blood loss soon after.

Rob’s surfing mate of over 40 years, Tim Buckley remembers him as, “an old school surfer who loved good waves. He was always ready to surf, didn’t matter if it was down the coast or overseas, wherever”.

Rob, originally from Geelong, had moved to the Gold Coast in the late ‘70s where he worked as a tiler. He never married and didn’t have kids, which meant he had plenty of freedom to travel and chase waves. “He was the main guy I travelled with over the years,” recalls Tim. “I’m down here in Torquay and most of my friends have no time, no money, or their wives won’t let them go to Indo, but Rob was always up for it. I’d call him up and go, ‘You want to go to the Mentawais?’ And he’d be like, ‘Sure, why not?' No hesitation.”

The pair had done several trips throughout Indonesia over the years. “We went all through East Java, into Pacitan, up to the Mentawais and the Telos and of course Bali. We had some of the best waves of our lives surfing together in Indo, just the two of us. We even went up through New Guinea a few years back, travelled right over near the Indo border. He was an old school surfer who rode big semi-guns – 7’8”s and 7’10”s – and just wanted to surf the best waves he could.”

Rob had been a member of Palm Beach Boardriders in the past, but in recent times surfed with a group of guys who referred to themselves as the “Dune Street Boardriders”.

“There was a group of guys all around Rob’s age, either not married, ex-married, or with their kids having moved out of home who all had time on their hands to surf. They’d meet down at Dune Street at 7am on weekends and have a coffee and a smoke and talk about surfing. Where the banks were good, that kind of thing. They also had a mate who had a mini-bus and they’d pile in and head down and surf the Tweed Coast.”

Tim last spoke to Rob a few weeks back. “He rung me up out of the blue and said, ‘Let’s go to Timor. As soon as we can fly let’s get straight over there on the first plane before everyone else and have it to ourselves.’ That was just three weeks ago. That was the last time I spoke with him.”

Yesterday’s attack is the first shark fatality in NSW since February 2015, when Tadashi Nakahara was killed just down the coast at Ballina’s Shelly Beach. That attack marked the beginning of a year-long cluster of attacks and bumpings localised on the 30km stretch of coast between Ballina and Byron. During that same period, there were comparably few encounters on the stretch of coast north of Byron, including the Tweed Coast. In the years since however the surfing population on the Tweed Coast has exploded, and yesterday’s attack raises concerns whether there will be parallels to the cluster of encounters down the coast five years ago.

The only recent activity recorded in the immediate area by the DPI’s Kingscliff shark pinger – just around the corner from yesterday’s attack – was a tagged bull shark back on June 5 and a small white back in early May. Of more concern however were two large whites – one 4.03m and the other 4.3m – caught and tagged on smart drumlines off Ballina on May 13 and May 20 respectively, presumably following the humpback migration north.

The surf on the Tweed Coast yesterday morning was three foot and clean, and surfers all along the coast reported plenty of baitfish in the water with larger fish feeding. My brother had surfed with his young bloke earlier that morning down the beach at Casuarina, less than a kilometre from the attack. They’d been surfing alone in the high tide shorebreak but soon found themselves surrounded by baitfish. “It was strange, they were hanging under my board and they wouldn’t move. You could literally pick them up… they were so spooked by whatever was out there feeding they just clung to us. I just looked at Taj and said, ‘Mate, we’re out of here.’”

Beaches in the Tweed Shire remain closed after another large shark was spotted in the area. The situation will be assessed Tuesday morning before a decision is made on whether beaches in the area can be reopened.

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