Damon Kendrick - diver, acrobat and swimmer

On Wednesday February 13, 1974, Natal diver Damon Kendrick suffered a shark attack which resulted in the loss of his lower right leg. The attack took place 5m from shore, in 1,5 m deep water, while Damon was busy with surf lifesaving traing at Amanzimtoti Beach.

Despite this handicap he continued to dive, representing Western Province at nationals for 9 years. 

The Western Province men's diving team at the 1979 SA nationals were Neil Duveen, Damon Kendrick, Robert Whittle and Joe Hewlis. In 1984 Damon was still diving for Province at the South African Championships.

After emigrating to Australia, Damon became a long distance swimmer, competing in open water events the the Rottnest Island Race and the Geo Bay Swim.

Damon also competed at the World Masters Swimming Championships on a number of occasions, swim all distances of freestyle as well as butterfly events.

"Fourteen-year-old lifesaver Damon Kendrick remembers being irritated at being asked this by a neighbour one Sunday in February 1974. “What do you mean, is it safe to swim here?” he replied, although he knew exactly what she meant.

A man had been bitten by a shark here, at Amanzimtoti, 24km from Durban in South Africa, the previous month. “It’s a once-ina-lifetime occurrence,” Damon told his neighbour, explaining that not only were shark attacks extremely rare, but the beach was well protected by shark nets."

29 February, 1979

Shark Attack report




GSAF 1974.02.13.b



Wednesday February 13, 1974


The incident took place in the Indian Ocean at Inyoni Rocks, Amanzimtoti, 26 kilometres southwest of Durban, Natal, South Africa.

30°03'S, 30°53,4'E



Damon Kendrick


The swimmer, a 14-year-old male, was 1,68 metres tall, weighed 42,7 kilograms and was clad in a red-orange speedo. He was well-tanned, wore no jewelry and had no injuries before the accident. Kendrick was the current Natal Junior Diving Champion.



The weather was hot; temperature ranged from 24° to 27,7°C. The sky was cloudless and during the morning there was a light southwesterly breeze. Shortly after noon the wind changed to south- southwesterly, finally dropping completely at 19h00.


Third Quarter, February 14, 1974


For some weeks prior to the incident, Natal had been experiencing heavy rains in the interior. As a result most rivers were in flood and emptying into the sea.

The flood conditions caused a marked water turbidity and deposited large quantities of plant debris and animal remains in the sea. Three metres from shore there was a wide channel where waves were reforming and breaking on to the beach. Water visibility in the surf zone was zero, and was only 1,2 metres beyond the backline. The sea temperature was 24ºC and high tide occurred at 17h46.

Large waves 1,2 metres in height were breaking on a sandbank about 175 metres from the beach. The waves rolled across the sandbank and reformed in a channel between the sandbank and the beach before breaking on the shore. The shorebreak had eroded a steeply shelving bank at the water's edge and created a close inshore channel, the incident took place seaward of this channel. A rip current flowed out to sea adjacent to Inyoni Rocks.


On February 6, 1974 surf conditions deteriorated making launching of ski-boats impossible. Large surf and rough seas persisted until the day after the attack. The nets had not been serviced for seven days and bathing was banned.

Inspection of the shark nets immediately after the attack revealed that five of the nine nets were severely bunched.


The accident took place five metres from shore in the bathing area on the northern side of Inyoni Rocks.


One to 1,5 metres

TIME: 19h01


An official life-savingclub training period for the voluntary life-savers of the Amanzimtoti Surf Life-saving Club was held from 17h00 to 19h00. Five life-savers had entered the sea about 18h50 and body-surfed a few waves before returning to shore. Damon Kendrick, Joe Kool and Eric Verkerk ran into the water at 18h55. They swam out about 15 metres and were body-surfing in the shorebreak as they swam northwards, parallel to the beach. Kendrick was 10 metres from shore, Kool was five metres seaward of him and Verkerk was seven metres south and slightly seaward of Kendrick. Kool felt something brush his side and moments later he felt a hard bump against his right knee. He shouted an alarm to his companions.

When Kendrick heard Kool's warning, he immediately began swimming towards shore and was in the shorebreak when he was bitten by the shark. He was about to stand when theshark seized his lower right leg. “I felt my whole body being shaken and I heard the shark growl,” said Kendrick. The shark shook his leg for about two seconds and then released him. Kendrick was left in waist-deep water, the next wave washed him on to the beach where he pushed himself backwards away from the water's edge. At no time did anyone see the shark.

Kool and Verkerk reached the shore about ten metres south of Kendrick. Kool pulled Kendrick on to the beach and Verkerk found the club trainer and informed him of theincident.


Kendrick's right leg was bitten below the knee; a large amount of calf muscle was removed and the fibula, tendons and nerves were severed. The shark had made a single strike, biting his leg twice. The initial bite severed the fibula ten centimetres above the ankle and the serrated teeth of the shark scraped the tibia, cutting grooves and nicks in the bone.

This resulted in flaking of the bone which indicates that during the first bite the shark moved its head to the left as it bit in to the tibia; there was no flaking of the bone in the other direction. The second bite, a little higher up the leg towards the knee, removed the entire calf muscle and the fibula. The arc of the second bite measured 20,3 centimetres and the nicks in the tibia suggest that the shark removed the muscle from the leg with a movement of its head towards the right.


The club trainer, Stan Jooste, had just finished training the life-savers when Verkerk arrived and told him that Kendrick had been bitten by a shark. Jooste ran to where Kendrick was lying on his back on almost level ground with his head facing away from the water's edge. Jooste did not move him; he applied digital pressure to the femoral artery, gave instructions for the left leg to be raised and the injured leg to be placed on a towel. One of the life-savers, Schravesands, was told to call a doctor and alert the ambulance, hospital and Traffic Department. This was accomplished within six minutes of Jooste arriving at the scene of the incident.

The Shark Attack pack, containing a first-aid trauma kit and blood plasma, was brought from the clubhouse. Miles Kendrick made a tourniquet from a triangular bandage and tied it above the right knee. Digital pressure on the femoral artery was released and the time noted so that the tourniquet could be loosened every 15 minutes. Sterilized gauze bandages were placed over the wound which was then packed with cotton wool pads. The lower right leg was tightly  bound with a 10-centimetre crepe bandage which acted as a pressure bandage.

Dr. Dyer arrived at the beach and was informed of the severity of the wound. Kendrick's pulse was 90 beats per minute and weak but regular. His blood pressure was 70/40. Dr Dyer gave him an injection of 75 ml pentathol.

The ambulance arrived and Dr. Dyer gave orders to move Kendrick to the ambulance. Blood plasma had been reconstituted by the life-savers

M. Sadler and B. Dummett while waiting for the doctor and it was administered in the ambulance. The pulse was again measured and found to be 79 beats per minute, strong and of full volume. Blood pressure was 100/70.

To prevent further trauma to Kendrick, the ambulance driver was instructed to drive slowly to Addington Hospital in Durban. Traffic Police escorted the ambulance and stopped traffic at all intersections en route, allowing the ambulance to reach the hospital without stopping.

From the time of the incident to the arrival at the hospital 62 minutes elapsed:

19h00 - incident

19h20 - bleeding stopped and wound dressed

19h32 - arrival of Dr Dyer and patient placed in ambulance

19h39 - set up plasma drip intravenously 20h02 - arrival at hospital.

Throughout the whole procedure, the patient was treated with gentleness and constantly reassured.


On arrival at the hospital Kendrick's pulse rate had increased to 120 beats per minute. The bandages were removed and he was taken to Casualty where the injured  and heavily sand-contaminated leg was examined by three specialist surgeons. They reached a unanimous decision that the leg could not be saved because of the removal of gross muscle tissue with the severance of the major nerves and tendons. Kendrick's right leg was surgically amputated below the knee.


Three serrated tooth fragments were recovered from shallow nicks in the tibia by NSB Research Officer Tim Wallett on February 14, 1974. “The tooth chips, bearing distinct serrations, are very small and it is difficult to determine what species of shark was responsible for the attack,” noted Wallett. “Microscopic examination of the tooth fragments indicates that the serrations are similar to those found in a number of Carcharhinus teeth.” (No species identification was made and the tooth fragments have since disappeared.) “NSB meshing records confirm that the dusky shark is the most common shark species caught in the inshore region and the serrations on the tooth fragments also resemble those of dusky shark teeth. Similarities also exist between the serrations present on Zambesi and Java shark teeth and these two species are likely candidates due to their past reputation.”

“Measurements of the wounds indicated that the jaws of the shark were 190 millimetres wide. The arc of the jaw, measured from the injuries sustained by Kendrick, indicates that the length of the incidenter was approximately 1,9 metres. Regrettably there was not sufficient evidence to conclude which particular species was responsible for this incident.”


Less than a year after the incident, Kendrick swam the Midmar Mile at Midmar Dam near Pietermaritzburg. For the next nine years he represented the Western Province as a springboard diver. In 1986 he joined Masters of the Sky troupe as a trapeze artist.


Interviews with Damon Kendrick; Stan Jooste; Graeme Charter,

Tim Wallett &

Beulah Davis, Natal Sharks Board


Marie Levine, Global

Shark Accident File

The Meaning of Courage: Damon Kendrick

30 December 2011

BUSSELTON, Australia. December 30. IF Damon Kendrick was a word, he would be all over the dictionary: courageous, positive, inspirational, unbelievable.

Damon lost his leg as a result of a shark encounter in South Africa at the age of 14, but his fast-paced life and exploits have apparently not taken a hit. After becoming the first amputee to complete the 19.7K Rottnest Channel Swim in Western Australia, the multi-talented athlete from Perth really stepped it up at the recent 20K Geo Bay Swim from Quindalup to Busselton.

Especially since a large shark had been spotted in the area. "Right, I thought – game on," in words that make sense in a pool or basketball courts, but are unbelievable from a man without his right foot. "All the way I imagined him 100 meters behind me and I had to stay ahead. I beat him by well over an hour and didn't I enjoy rubbing his face in it."

Damon won and set a new course record in 4 hours, 44 minutes and 54 seconds, ahead of second place Steve Wilson in 5:19:32.

Damon recalled when he lost his leg, thinking he was going to die. "I was in water, not even three foot deep when it grabbed me, shook me like mad, and then dragged me under. I remember drawing a breath and thinking it was the last breath I was going to take.." After his amputation, Damon thought, "I could cry, but what's the point of that? It's not going to bring my leg back. So I just thought I would do the best I can."

And his best is the best there is to offer.

Shark attack victim blitzs the competition in the Geo Bay Swim

November 16, 2011

DAMON Kendrick may have lost a leg to a shark attack when he was 14, but he is not one to shirk an ocean swimming challenge.

So when a young competitor pointed at his leg before the

Geo Bay Swim on Sunday, and said “You better not beat me” it only made the Perth-based swimmer even more determined, even though another large shark had been spotted in the area around the time of the event.

“Right I thought – Game on,” he said. “All the way I imagined him 100m behind me and I had to stay ahead.

“I beat him by well over an hour and didn’t I enjoy rubbing his face in it.”

Not only did Damon beat that young bloke, he smashed the course record for the 20km swim by around 20 minutes as he was the first individual competitor to emerge from the water.

His time of four hours, 44 minutes and 54 seconds was well ahead of second-placed Steve Wilson who came home in 5:19:32.

Damon lost his leg in South Africa while training to be a surf lifesaver, when he was attacke by a shark just metres from the shore.

"I was in water, not even three foot deep when it grabbed me, shook me like mad, and then dragged me under," he said in newspaper report in 2009. Damon said he knew instantly what it was and thought he was going to die.

But, he managed to survive the attack although his leg was so badly ravaged that it needed to be amputated. But, despite the encounter it hasn’t put him off the ocean and has since become a champion athlete.

Earlier this year he became the first amputee to complete the Rottnest Channel Swim, he won two gold, two silver and a bronze medal in last year’s Pan Pacific Games, competing against able-bodied competitors and won numerous gold medals at the last two World Masters Games.

He said the finish to the Geo Bay swim was difficult, despite the record time. “The tailwind helped for the first 15 kms and then it worked against us. The final leg was brutal. I was 35 minutes ahead of the second solo and an hour ahead of the third.

Organisers of the Geo Bay Swim, from Quindalup to Busselton, said a shark sighting in the area on the weekend didn’t affect it – even with a team named Shark Bait among those competing.

Shark attack victim jumps straight in the deep end

18 February 2011

Damon Kendrick lost his leg training as a lifesaver at a Durban beach.

A shark attack at just 14 years of age that left him an amputee and put a halt to his teen surf-lifesaving dreams didn't stop Damon Kendrick from facing his fears and getting back in the water.

In fact, it was just a matter of months before he was swimming again, competing in springboard diving for more than nine years in his native South Africa.

And now, 36 years later, the WAtoday Rottnest Channel Swim may just be the ultimate test.

Damon Kendrick swims at least five kilometres, four to five days a week.

Damon Kendrick swims at least five kilometres, four to five days a week.

Nearly 20km of open seas can play tricks on a person's mind, and according to Damon, the mental side of the race is much harder to overcome than any physical barriers he may face.

"I love the water and the sea, and I have always swum competitively," he said.

"But I have never been back to that same beach where I was attacked."

It was the summer of 1974, and Damon was one of dozens of lifesavers on a beach near Durban, preparing for their championship competition.

"We were about 25m from the shore, all of sudden this guy just said 'Swim for shore, swim for shore'," he said.

"What I didn't know was that the shark had bumped him, and sharks tend to bump you and then circle around and come back in to bite.

"I didn't know that it had bumped him, and then come back and lacerated his knee and shin and that he was trailing blood through the water.

"I was swimming to shore just behind him, swimming through the blood.

"About three metres from shore, in 1m-deep water, I was just about to put my feet on the ground and start running."

It was then that the shark grabbed him by the leg, shaking him. His leg was so badly ravaged it needed to be amputated below the knee.

Luckily, Damon has a sense of humour, and said despite having a great 'scary story' at his disposal ahead of the WAtoday Rottnest Channel Swim, said he won't be using it to psych-out his opponents.

"On a long swim like that, your mind plays tricks on you, and it's more of a mental challenge," he said.

"It's stopping the negative chatter that goes on in your head."

Damon is confident that his training regime, swimming at least 5km four to five days a week, will be more than enough preparation for the 19.7km haul on the weekend.

"I have no doubt that I'll finish," he said.

"Ideally I would like to finish in under six hours, that would be great.

"A lot of  it obviously depends on the conditions on the day."

Now in its 21st year, the WAtoday Rottnest Channel Swim is being held on Saturday, February 26.

Thousands of swimmers will depart from Cottesloe Beach at 5.45am, making their way 19.7km to the finish line at Thomsons Bay on Rottnest Island.




The loss of a leg to a shark 39 years ago has done nothing to quell Damon Kendrick’s love of swimming and the ocean.

The Zimbabwe-born 53-year-old, who now lives at Ermington in NSW, took the gold medal in the 5km open water swim (50-54 age group) today (Sunday) at the Pan Pacific Masters Games at Lake Hugh Muntz on the Gold Coast.

“I grew up in South Africa and I’ve lived here in Australia for the past 18 years,” said Kendrick.

“I was bitten by a shark when I was 14. It (missing the leg) doesn’t really affect me.”

Kendrick’s win on Sunday was as personally satisfying as it was hard fought. He beat home swimmers much younger and registered the fourth fastest time across all age categories.

“The wind was blowing hard and it made for some tough swimming at some parts of the lake,” said Kendrick.

“There was a guy just ahead of me (and) we swam around together for three laps and he pulled ahead of me just at the end.

“Most of the lake isn’t too bad, but down at the bottom corner it seems to get a huge chop.

“It‘s like the ocean and there is a surface current going in the opposite direction and you really have to fight your way back.

“It seemed to get worse each time, so I don’t know whether it was me getting tired or it was actually getting worse.”

The win rounded off a spectacular week of success that also saw him take the gold medal in the 400m freestyle and two silvers and a bronze in the swimming competition at the Southport Olympic Pool.

At the 2010 Pan Pacific Masters Games he delivered identical results, winning two gold, two silver and a bronze medal.

Kendrick said, despite its all-too-obvious perils, he has had a life-long love affair with the water.

“I was born into a swimming family. My mother was a swimming coach so I could swim before I could walk.

“At one stage I did gymnastics for a few years and then springboard diving and when the joints got sore I went back to swimming.

“I’ve since swam at the World Masters Games in Melbourne, Edmonton and Sydney.

“Edmonton and Sydney had a ‘swimmers with a disability’ category which was nice because I could pick up some more medals there.

“It was especially amazing going to Edmonton and being in a foreign country competing and meeting people from all over the world.”

Kendrick said that, unlike many things in life, age can bring distinct benefits to Masters participants.

“What I like is that most people fear getting old, but when you compete in Masters sport you look forward to getting older because you have an age advantage,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of returning in 2014 to defend his Pan Pacific Masters Games titles he responded immediately, “Oh yes, absolutely.”

Damon Kendrick's first time on the trapeze in over 20 years. 10 November, 2012