Barely a week after multiple shark attacks forced the cancellation of an international surfing contest, the boards were back in the water off the southwest Australian coast.
Andrew Hill, 54, paddled through the waters off Gracetown last week.
When he saw a cluster of fins slicing through the waves, he later told reporters, he didn’t worry.
An experienced paddle boarder, Hill knew these weren’t great white sharks, which are believed to have mauled two surfers a few days earlier, on beaches just a few miles away.
No, these were dolphins. Nice, friendly dolphins.
“It’s good to see dolphins,” Hill told 7News Perth. “Surfers like seeing dolphins.”
There looked to be more than a dozen in the pod, he said, likely herding fish. They wheeled around him as he stood on his board and paddled toward deeper water.
A moment later, a neat row of nine dolphins merged with a wave heading straight toward Hill.
For a few seconds, this was beautiful — their fins crowning the white tip of the wave, rolling in sync with it.
Hill continued to paddle as the dolphins dove and passed under him and around him.
All except one, which beelined toward Hill, leaped out of the water, and body checked him straight off his board.
As we said, these weren’t sharks, which days before had tried to drag two surfers underwater, and put one in a hospital with a chunk torn out of his leg.
The dolphin, in contrast, seemed satisfied to have thumped Hill, and left him alone to scramble back onto his board while a witness gasped and filmed from the shore.
In his TV interview after the video went viral, Hill had no idea what he’d done to offend the dolphin, and could only compare the blow to a game of rugby, which he took with a sportsman’s grace.
“Fairly legal hip-and-shoulder, I think,” Hill said. “Hat’s off to him.”