Air Jaws: Even Higher

We are Celebrating Air Jaws Even Higher

In 2002 Air Jaws Even Higher was commissioned and this time in conjunction with filming at Seal Island in False Bay we headed off to Australia to see if we could be the first to get a breach in this location where flying sharks were seldom if ever seen and certainly no photographic record existed of this. We were there for 3 weeks and in that time, we only saw 3 sharks. We visited all the famous locations, Dangerous reef being like Mecca for me as this is where it all started with Rodney Fox and the Taylors.

We towed a decoy literally for days on end and we all felt it was not going to happen and then whoosh all of a sudden, a shark breached. We all looked at each other, did anyone get it? The answer is other than my still photos, no! Everyone was just too tired.

In those days, cameras were huge and heavy and hour upon hour of holding them takes its toll. A breach lasts only a second and if you are not on it, that’s it.

We did however have the stills to pull off the sequence and it was a first for Australia.

shark breaching

In the same show Jeff Kurr also got a great breach in California and this coupled with the ones shot at Seal Island showed that under the right circumstances Great Whites could and would breach anywhere.

One of my favorite shots from Air Jaws Even Higher is one of a shark breaching, shot from underwater where a huge shark launches up at the decoy at tremendous speed and then turns just before impact and you see the massive gills flex in anticipation for the deluge of ingested water. This was the first time a shark had ever been filmed at the moment it leaves the water and breaches.

It was also during the making of this show that we headed out to Seal island to do a test to see if great whites feed in the dark. Many had suggested great whites eyes were only suited to daytime feeding. We did not have big budgets and our lighting took the form of a small torch. I remember well the elation at seeing our first After Dark shark and then seeing it’s eyes go green as it entered the torch light beam and then finally took the fish bait we had laid out for our nocturnal guest. We now had footage for the first time of great whites feeding After Dark.

Ultimate Air Jaws

Ultimate Air Jaws in 2010 was really about great cinematography. Jeff had partnered up with Tony Sacco and Tony brought a workman like but very creative element to the shows which would be a hall mark of all subsequent Air Jaws. Tony comes from a studio and large screen back ground and as such brings great lighting techniques, different angles and a meticulous attention to detail.

western cape shark cage diving

Ultimate Air Jaws had two real highlights for me as a host where I got to see great whites at very close quarters. There was also one low light. Jeff had brought out a submarine for me to follow the great whites in, sounded great, NOT!

This was a half submarine and the back half was open with my butt sticking out. Now normally that is not such a big deal, except when you can’t turn around and you know you have just watched a great white go past you and at very close quarters. I remember clenching my cheeks in anticipation, a great way to tone up I guess. The sub also had several buoyancy issues and amongst other things did some unannounced dives of its own. It was after one of these dives down to the bottom of the Mossel Bay harbor that I called time out on the sub and said good bye to the yellow submarine for good.

Anyway, back to the highlights, the first was up in Mossel Bay where over the course of two weeks I paddled with roughly 20 or more different great whites from a small yellow kayak. Jeff has an affinity for giving me yellow things to use, not sure why?

It was however fantastic as shark after shark would investigate me in very non-threatening ways. Only once did a small 9ft shark gently try mouth the kayak next to my feet in his attempts to see what it was. On TV, it looked a lot scarier than what it was. Interestingly on one of the cloudy days with poor visibility I could see the shark’s behavior was different. They were edgy, rushing in and out of the slick and being generally very bitety.

Why are Great White Sharks disappearing from the South African Coastline?

I said I was not happy to paddle with the sharks on this morning but we should float the kayak out to see what would happen. After about 20 minutes of no interactions a large shark rushed up and grabbed my paddle across it’s jaws, I was glad I was not onboard and a good reason to always trust your gut feelings! What I also learnt first-hand was that the sharks were most attracted to the splashing and movement of the paddle and often the only way I could entice the sharks to come closer to me was to swish it around in the water.

For the most part, the sharks simply were not interested.

In Ultimate Air Jaws for the first time we tried out a 6ft long aluminum craft we named the Seal Sled where I was to be towed behind the primary vessel with the objective of getting an idea of what it was like to be a seal when a great white breached, hmm.

I knew from having seen more predatory attacks on fur seals than anyone else alive that the sharks were in 95% of all attacks only interested in the young of the years, the number 2’s as we called them. There was however that 5% that worried me as the 6ft pontoons on the sled looked an awful lot like these adult female seals.

I remember lying on that sled and wondering all sorts of crazy things, you do that when you are in the most dangerous water in the world and only 5 inches away from it with a decoy designed to attract the attention of a huge shark not more than 12ft away from you, funny that. Not to worry though, I had a life jacket on and a broken bicycle helmet I found in my garage just a few hours earlier. How the helmet was going to help I am not sure.

shark cage diving South Africa

After only a few minutes of towing, a shark exploded from the water. It happened so quickly I did not even realize what was going on until the shark was ¾ clear of the water, mouth agape and looking like it would jump right at me. With a huge splash it reentered the water, I was buzzing, what an experience. I certainly gained an even greater respect for the seals and how miraculously they manage in 51% of all attacks to survive an attack from a great white.

This breach was the “big shot” of Ultimate Air Jaws and together with an equally spectacular breach from the sled a few years later was voted the most spectacular shot ever on shark week. For me personally seeing a shark breach just on its own is far more deserving of such an accolade.

Ultimate Air Jaws also had other stunning visuals, one I loved was filmed off Rob Lawrence’s boat at Seal Island of a huge shark breaching in rough water and you see in minute detail each drop of water as the leviathan turns it’s snow white belly towards the screen midair. Coupled with a great music track this shot was breath taking and cumulatively with the other great shots was the result why Ultimate Air Jaws was Emmy nominated.

We also celebrate Air Jaws: The Hunted and Air Jaws: Returns. We also offer cage shark diving Gansbaai.

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27 June 2023

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