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The shark huntress of Mooloolaba
Richard W. Johnston
December 08, 1975
Australia's Kim McKenzie dispatches a few hundred predators each year off the coast of Queensland but, alas, she was just another goofy-footer at Hawaii's world championships
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December 08, 1975

The Shark Huntress Of Mooloolaba

Australia's Kim McKenzie dispatches a few hundred predators each year off the coast of Queensland but, alas, she was just another goofy-footer at Hawaii's world championships

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Even with her goofy-foot handicap, she might have done well in the semis. The surf dropped the next day and the finalists were chosen in waves of six to eight feet, a sorry contrast to 1974's roaring day at Waimea Bay when Reno Abellira rode a 30-footer to victory. But the day after that the tournament moved to Waimea, and to the considerable surprise of almost everybody, meteorologists included, the big rollers came again, not as big as last year but 15 to 20 feet, which is big enough for anybody.

It was a day on the wild—and the mild—side. Mild first. All through the contest a snorkeler bobbed around near the shore, oblivious to the surfers battling the waves. He was looking for puka shells. Next, wild. As the six finalists were paddling out, defending champion Abel-lira glanced back toward the beach just in time to see a monster wave snatch two imprudent and fully clad tourists off the sand and into Waimea's fierce rip. Abel-lira instantly reversed his board and saved two lives.

Director Fred Hemmings Jr. suspended the heat during the rescue. When it finally began, Reno promptly caught the first wave. But there weren't many more big moments for partisans of Hawaii surfers. Three Australians had reached the final, plus Abellira and Jeff Hakman of Hawaii and Shaun Tomson of South Africa. They all had plenty of motivation—first prize was $5,000, second $2,000—but the Aussies had a little extra. They had been annoyed by the invitation to McKenzie—"No bloody business having women in the contest," one had muttered—and their pique had peaked when they discovered Smirnoff had paid her way (because of the press tour) but not theirs. Any chance that this resentment might have died disappeared when they heard reports on her opinion of Australian males. Asked if she planned to marry, she had replied, "Not for about 30 years, I'd say—well, seriously, not till I'm 30 or so. Australian men have a little growing up to do." Grown up or not, the Aussies were out to get it all back for Crown, Commonwealth and the male sex.

They just about did it, too. Mark Richards, a beardless 18-year-old competing in Hawaii for the first time, won. Ian Cairns, the 1973 champion, was second and Wayne Bartholomew, another first-timer, was third. It was a bad day for Hawaii and the rest of the surfing world. Hakman came fourth; Abellira, the newly minted hero, fifth; and Tomson, who had been touted as 1975's best surfer, sixth and last. McKenzie, packed and ready for a hot summer of shark hunting, viewed the result philosophically. "I couldn't have beaten any of them," she said. "Not in those waves." Did she plan to continue surfing? "For a couple of years, maybe. Then I'm going to quit both surfing and sharking, get a little boat and muck about the Barrier Reef for a while. I'm building a house to rent and I'll sell a few fish. I'll be able to support myself."

One last question—had she read or seen Jaws? "Both," she said. "Didn't like the book, but the movie was exciting. You can't tyke either one serious, though. Only kind of sharks that'd hang around like that are the ones that can't myke it in the open sea. Sydney Harbor's had some—they just mucked about and took a dog off the beach now and then, maybe a child sometimes. But like in Jaws? Naow wye." If Kim McKenzie had been an editor at Doubleday, it is entirely likely that she would have turned down Benchley's manuscript. On the other hand, if the book had not been published and then made into the biggest box-office movie of all time, Smirnoff certainly would not have taken the captain to dinner at "21" and might not even have invited her to Hawaii. Quid pro quo.

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