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As told to Matt Button by Tehillah McGuinness

Growing up in South Africa offers a plethora of excitement.

Americans have a whole industry glorifying their rampaging crime scene. Australians love nothing more than to boast that everything wants to bite, claw, scratch and inject you with venom, poison and shit beer. South Africa combines the pair with gusto.

One day in J Bay...

One day in J Bay…

Tehillah McGuinness chose a particularly singularly South African suicide attempt – the Sardine Run. Being mauled by a mackerels’ cousin seems like an unlikely way to go but if you paddle out along the KwaZulu-Natal coast as the cold Agulhas current draws up the bounty of the frigid depths you risk becoming part of one of the greatest spectacles on the planet.

‘I must have been about 18 at the time and the waves were really good one afternoon, so I suited up and ran from my house at Supers [at Jeffery’s Bay] all the way to the point. There were a good few people out, but there were also loads of people just watching from the car park, which I thought was a bit strange. The birds should have been a give away.’

Tee kitting up. Image Jean Martine-McGuinnes

Tee kitting up. Image Jean Martine-McGuinnes

Run to the point at Jeffreys Bay

Run to the point at Jeffreys Bay

Sat in the line up as a lull set in, the crowd found themselves in a rainstorm of diving gannets. Even before the ocean began to boil with a billion panicking sardines, six pound birds falling out of the sky at 100kmph should have been enough of a reason to get out.

‘I don’t think I realised the full extent of what was going on, but the waves were good and it wasn’t too crowded. So we stayed’

The spectacle between the gentle rolling set was nothing to the ball of toothy destruction below. Sardines, in their million-fold panic, coil into ever tighter balls of terrified fish.

Image: Tanaka Juuyoh

Sardines on the run. Image: Tanaka Juuyoh

No one wants to be on the outside because the outside means you’re on the menu. Would sir like to be eviscerated and digested by a common or bottlenose dolphin? What about a game fish – king mackerel, garrick or an eastern little tuna? No? How about something off our shark menu – Zambezi, black tip, spinner, grey nurse, bronzer whaler or dusky?

These bait balls attract every frenzied nut-case predator in two oceans and in the blood and barbarity accidents happen. Feet and fish are worryingly similar and like the idiots seen elbowing, pushing and biting in the Asda black-friday sales the seas goes mental.

Tehillah surfing at J Bay. Image: Jean Martine-McGuinnes

Tehillah surfing at J Bay. Image: Jean Martine-McGuinnes

Remember that Fanning scene? One shark and one Aussie. Well that was a playground punch up to the sardine runs LA riots.

‘Locals should know better but after my friend and I got out the water and were walking back home along the beach, one of the locals asked us “Are you mad?” I remember going home and telling my mom about my surf and the crazy birds. “It was such an epic adventure!”

Yeah, note to everyone – if you’ve chosen to surf in the middle of a feeding frenzy that costs a million little lives… ‘don’t tell your mom. She probably doesn’t want to know. Sorry mom.’

Feeding time in South Africa comes frequently

Feeding time in South Africa comes frequently

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