Kiwi shark attack survivor came within ‘an inch’ of losing life

Sam Judd is the co-founder of Sustainable Coastlines an organisation dedicated to cleaning our oceans. He’s a passionate surfer and diver whose adventures have taken him all over the world.

After finishing university, I bought a Kombi with a friend in the port of Valparaiso in Chile. We wanted to drive from South America to Canada, but we bought an absolute lemon and spent ages in mechanics’ shops trying to fix it.

Finally, after we set off across the Andes towards Santiago, the engine caught fire. I had to smash a delicious bottle of red wine to put it out. It was also freezing cold, so we abandoned the van and hitchhiked to Santiago. With the van dream up in flames, we pooled our money and flew to the Galapagos Islands for surfing and diving.

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Cleaning up the Galapagos Islands

We’d been on the main island of San Cristobal for seven months when an old Kiwi guy turned up. Dave had a small backpack, an impressive handlebar moustache and swam in jeans. He was peculiar but we still put him up in our half-finished house full of stinkbugs and mosquitoes. Dave told us about a charity that paid fishermen to go out in their old fishing boats and clean beaches instead of catching fish. Because the Galapagos have very tight permit structures, it’s expensive to go on official trips, so we volunteered.

We saw sharks, marine iguanas, manta rays and sunfish but we also saw tonnes of plastic choking this World Heritage site, where Charles Darwin found the inspiration for his Theory of Evolution. Because we were young and capable of lugging heavy bags over sharp volcanic rocks, we really got into it and over eight days, five of us removed 1.6 tonnes of rubbish.

When we got back to the main island, we were at the pub telling our friends all about it, and a group of us decided to do a clean up on San Cristobal.

Shark attack

Three days later, Christmas Eve 2007, I’m surfing when a 3m tiger shark bites me on the thigh. I came within an inch of losing my life. A friend helped me walk 1.5km across slippery rocks, then a ute transported me along dusty, gravel roads to the clinic.

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