December 29, 2023

‘It’s stuff nightmares are made of’: Teen killed in shark attack was a talented surfer

By Jacob Shteyman
December 29, 2023 — 12.47pm
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A teenage boy killed in a shark attack off the coast of South Australia has been remembered as a talented and loved member of the surfing community.

Khai Cowley was fatally mauled by a suspected great white while surfing off remote Ethel Beach on the Yorke Peninsula, west of Adelaide, about 1.30pm on Thursday.

Emergency services rushed to the popular surfing spot in Innes National Park, but were unable to save the 15-year-old’s life.

Surfing SA paid tribute to the talented surfer “grom” from Maslin Beach in Adelaide’s south.

“Khai was very involved in our surfing community, with his passion for surfing stemming from a family with deep surfing roots in SA,” the group said in an Instagram post.

“He was a happy, kind and respectful kid, very much loved by his surfing peers, and he will be greatly missed out in our community and on the water.”

MicroGroms Junior Surf Club, of which the teen was a member, also paid tribute on social media.

“It is with immense sadness that Micogroms Junior Surf Club remember Khai after his devastating passing on December 28th, 2023.”


It said the teen was a member of the club since 2016. “[He] will be remembered as a good friend and a talented surfer who was well respected and admired by all that knew him.”

The Port Noarlunga Football Club said in a statement they were heartbroken to hear of Khai’s death.

“Khai and his family have been part of our community for many years and we are absolutely shattered to hear this news.”

Ryan Valente, a skipper with Reef Encounters who knows the Marion Bay region well, said it was unusual to see great whites in the area and could not recall any similar incidents happening before.

“It’s stuff nightmares are made of,” he told ABC Radio.


“Yesterday itself conditions-wise was a very grim day: lightning, strong winds and it was quite a dark day … The town’s in a bit of shock, I guess. Our hearts go out to the family that are involved in the tragic incident.”

Andrew Fox, a researcher at the Rodney Fox Shark Museum, said great whites are ambush predators and murky conditions on Thursday may have increased their activity.

“They’re more motivated – bigger swell, dirty water,” he told ABC Radio. “Anything that increases the chances of an ambush predator.”

Khai’s death rounds out a horror year for SA beachgoers, with three people killed by sharks and another two injured in the state’s waters in 2023.

Teacher Simon Baccanello, 46, died in a suspected shark attack while surfing at Walkers Rock Beach, about 365km west of Adelaide, in May before 55-year-old Tod Gendle was killed surfing at Granites Beach on the state’s west coast in October.

Emergency services rushed to the popular surfing spot but were unable to save the 15-year-old’s life.Credit: Nine News

Fox said the recent uptick in shark attacks was a stark contrast to the relatively low number of incidents during the previous eight years. “A lot of surf places are also natural feeding grounds of sharks and there’s been a lot of salmon seen swimming through that area in recent times.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser set up by Khai’s family to help pay for his funeral costs had raised almost $24,000 by Friday morning – more than triple its target.

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