Paddling for Smiles – Shark Attack! ** Updated **

Thursday, 08 December 2011 06:48 | Written by 
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Richard Kohler comes ashore on day 2 - before the shark incident! Richard Kohler comes ashore on day 2 - before the shark incident!

The email was brief: “Newsflash - Richard was attacked by a shark. He is safe, but his surfski is seriously damaged (entire rudder system trashed).”  Later came an update: “Richard is safe, though he had to stop 3 times on his paddle today to empty his boat. “

Paddling for Smiles

Richard Kohler set off on Monday on his epic 2,600km paddle around the South African coast.  The purpose of the trip is to raise R1.1million for “Miles for Smiles”, a charity that provides the funds needed for corrective surgery for children born with cleft palates or lips.

(To read more about the project, and to contribute, go to

Richard Kohler

Richard Kohler

The eventful Day 3

Yesterday Richard was scheduled to paddle 70km from Sodwana Bay to Cape Vidal past the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (South Africa’s frica’s first World Heritage Site).  The park authorities had granted NO access whatsoever to Richard’s second, Riaan, in the Landrover support vehicle (not even in an emergency).

Undaunted Richard set off at 05h00 and soon found himself in superb downwind conditions, catching run after run after run.  Until…

Sharky Encounter

Richard had eased himself onto a run and was paddles-down, sitting relaxed as the ski surfed down the face when… BANG!  The ski was flung forwards and sideways, and in an instant Richard was in the water in a welter of spray.  “I knew instantly it was a shark,” he said.  “I was utterly amazed at the force with which it hit me.”

The specially reinforced ski was still in one piece, but the rudder had been smashed forward with such energy that the whole shaft fitting had been ripped off its mountings, tearing a hole in the bottom of the hull.  

The rudder was still on the shaft, providing some directional stability - but barely.  "At the time I was about 30km into the planned 70km paddle, about 4km out to sea," Richard said. "I got back on and headed for the beach."

By using some duct tape from a nearby fishing boat, he was able to reduce the amount of water leaking in - but he still had 40km to go and he had to return to shore twice more to drain the ski.

10km from Cape Vidal the rudder blade detached from the shaft altogether, leaving the ski with no steering at all.  "After that I was sticking my leg out to try and keep straight," Richard said.  

"I don't want that to happen again!".

Tough Boat; Tough Paddler

The stats for the day: Paddled 70km in just over 7 hours, including one shark attack and three beachings to drain the ski!

But...  "business as usual" and  the priority now was to get a replacement ski so that he could carry on this morning – the weather is ideal at present and there’s not a moment to be lost if he’s to complete the 2,600km paddle in his allotted two months.

Andre Botha of Republic Sports loaded up a spare Arrow ski and delivered it to Cape Vidal; more spare skis were offered by paddlers on the Zululand north coast.

This morning Richard is scheduled to paddle from Cape Vidal some 45km past St. Lucia to Nqwenveni – a “short” leg after yesterday’s effort.

Expedition Links

Those wanting to support, stay in touch with the expedition or assist with overnight stops or even paddle with him are urged to register here or follow Richard’s progress on the facebook page:

Paddling for Smiles

Boat Damage

Richard has been sponsored by Republic Sports who manufacture the Arrow range of surfskis.  They built a specially reinforced Arrow Pro for the trip with the following specs (courtesy of Republic Sports CEO, Andre Botha):

  • This is a specialy manufactured ski made from a very tough  Ampreg  Epoxy supplied by  AMT
  • The Ski is built with reinforced Carbon Fibre, with a double layer of fibre glass over its entire length and triple layers around the rudder, nose and tail.
  • The Ski was vacuum moulded and post cured for 12hrs in an oven making it possibly one of the toughest skis on the water

You get the picture.  This is one tough mother of a surfski.

Arrow ski

Oops - no rudder!  Some scratch marks are visible too

Arrow Ski

The rudder was smashed FORWARD by the impact of the shark (believed to be a hammerhead)

So what happened to it?  In a nutshell (again courtesy of Andre):

  • He was surfing down a wave doing 16km/hr
  • The shark hit him from the left rear with so much force he was knocked backwards out of the boat
  • The force of the attack ripped the rudder shaft through the reinforced layer of  Epoxy Glass and the mounting  block through which the rudder shaft is fixed . You would not be able to achieve the same result with a 5lb hammer. Note the tear is forwards not backward as would be the case if one struck a stationary object.

The boat is in the workshop today and will be back in action in the next couple of days.

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