Saved by the Boogie

How bodyboarding helped shark attack survivor Zachary Golebiowski get on with his life

When Zachary Golebiowski was attacked by a great white shark while surfing with friends near Esperance, WA in 2006, his life changed forever.

The then 15-year-old was surfing with two friends one overcast morning at Wharton Beach when the attack happened.

“It was about 7 am. Overcast, super glassy, only us three guys out. (It was) Classic shark attack conditions looking back on it now,” Golebiowski, who is now 24 years old, said.

“It was a complete surprise attack. I (had) just got a wave and paddled back out. It was such a weird feeling, all of a sudden everything went really quiet.”

Zac lost his right leg in the attack. However, if it weren’t for the bravery and quick thinking of his older brother Sam and good friend Joe, it could’ve been much worse.

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But it was after the incident where matters grew complicated for Zac. At 15 years of age, he should have been spending time with friend’s and worrying about when the next swell will arrive. Instead, he was learning how to walk all over again.

“The first few years sucked massively,” he said.

“I was at that age where you’re starting to do things, you know? (But) rather than hanging out with my buddies down the beach all day and talking about what you’re doing that night, I was in rehabilitation learning how to walk again and thinking about the importance of life.

“For an extra slap in the face, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while I was recovering.”

The constant adversity sunk Zac into a state of depression that he said “lasted years” until one day, nearly a year after the attack, he decided to get back in the water again.

He paddled out on a longboard with his older brothers and caught one wave into shore, lying down the entire time.

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“It was nice to be back in the water, but I just remember thinking, ‘Well I’m glad that’s over,'” Zac said.

“After that I still loved getting down to the beach at any opportunity, but became super self-conscious about people seeing me with one leg. So I started to take photos instead.

“That’s what I did for probably four years. I did bodyboard during that time, but I loved photography more.

“One summer I remember walking to this super secluded spot with my buddy on a boiling hot day. The waves were pumping all day; the water was beautiful, and I was sitting on the beach taking photos thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing sitting on the beach?’

“After that, I slowly started to get into surfing again, and when people would look at me, I’d try and not let it get to me.”

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Zac, who now lives in Victor Harbour, SA, said he relies on bodyboarding as a huge part of his physical and mental recovery process.

“For me, bodyboarding is the one time where I don’t have to worry about my leg,” he said.

“It’s where I can paddle just as fast as anyone else and feel normal. It is also super important exercise for me as I’m pretty limited as to what I can do.

“There’s no greater feeling for me than riding waves. It’s what I’ve always done; it’s what’s been in my family for 40-plus years, so that’s why I still do it.”

He recently teamed up with his brothers Ezra and Nathanael and wife Jodie to submit a video for the Coastalwatch Reelers competition with his video The Wrong Year / The Right Year.

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The video shows how Zac dealt with the shark attack, as well as his thoughts on topical issues such as culling and mitigation programs.

“I noticed Coastalwatch had this reelers comp running, so I thought now is probably the right time to make and enter a video,” he said.

“(The shark attack) is something I can talk about for sure. I mean, the events that happened on that day were super traumatic for everyone involved, but it’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up. I usually feel better in myself when I talk about it.”

You can vote for Zac’s video (featured above) at the Coastalwatch Reelers website.