Surfing chef and former Warrnambool student Jabez Reitman is back at work after recovering from a shark attack at Seven Mile Beach, south of Byron Bay, in February.
JABEZ Reitman’s amazing survival from a NSW shark attack last month made worldwide media waves, but his first close encounter was near Port Fairy as a teenager.
“I know what it’s like to look into their eyes and see the blackness,” he said this week as he prepared to go back chasing waves near his new home at Byron Bay.
“Back in the late ’90s when I was living around Warrnambool I was at a remote surfing spot near Port Fairy and a big shark circled me. It was bigger than my board — very scary.
“It was chasing a seal which went into seaweed and then it came back towards me. Luckily I caught a wave and escaped to a reef.”
Mr Reitman celebrated his 36th birthday this week, more circumspect about dangers lurking in the ocean but still with a passion for surfing, which blossomed as he attended primary schools in Warrnambool and Grassmere and later Warrnambool College before pursuing a career as chef.
Having a wife and 20-month-old daughter has given him a deeper sense of survival after the February 8 attack by a bull shark at Seven Mile Beach — a day before a Japanese surfer was killed by a shark at Shelly Beach, Ballina.
Mr Reitman’s injuries.
“The media frenzy was insane,” he said.
His near-death story started just before dawn when he drove to a favourite secluded beach, taking an inexperienced female surfer to show before she headed overseas.
“I pulled her out through a 40-metre gutter and stopped paddling for about 20 to 30 seconds when a pod of dolphins went past,” he said.
“A set (of waves) was coming and as I leant forward to grab the nose of my board there was a big whitewater splash. I saw the side of a nose as it hit me on the cheekbone.
“Then I was taken under the water. I surfaced and thought ‘aw, that stings’ and realised it wasn’t a dolphin.
“She thought I was teasing her until I paddled past and she saw the wound and blood.
“I saw the panic in her eyes. When we got to shore we had to walk 200 metres to the car. She didn’t have a licence, so I had to drive the 15 kilometres to hospital.”
Mr Reitman underwent emergency surgery to repair deep bites in his back, stretching from hip to shoulder, and was in hospital four days before three weeks of recuperation. He returned to work this week.
His encounter opened an opportunity to become an ambassador for surfing safety, with appearances likely at major competitions including Bell’s Beach and Margaret River.
As Mr Reitman steps into his new public profile, his mother Felicite Wylie of Bushfield is following her passion for the sea aboard a replica 15th-century caravel with partner Graeme Wylie.
As well as becoming a surfing safety adviser he will also be promoting a product called Wristbanz which produces a magnetic field.
Mr Reitman said he was wearing one earlier this summer when a tiger shark chased him at Ballina, but turned away when it came close.
On the day of his Byron Bay attack he did not have the band because he had misplaced it.
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