RETIRED fireman Dave Quinlivan was standing on his adopted beach on Tuesday telling some old visiting friends how he liked to stay close to shore on his daily paddle to keep away from nasties that lurked in deeper water.
Three days later, the 65-year-old was violently knocked off his ski by a shark just 50 metres off Black Head Beach, north of Forster, and savagely bitten on the leg.
Witnesses said Mr Quinlivan managed to clamber back onto his ski and catch a wave in despite losing his paddle.
He suffered a large gash to his lower left calf and another which penetrated to the bone on his ankle.
The former ironman and senior Newcastle fireman was flown by Hunter Westpac rescue helicopter to John Hunter Hospital where he was due to undergo surgery on Friday night.
‘‘Something had clearly knocked him off the ski and he was hanging onto the edge,’’ Hallidays Point resident Warren Thompson said.
‘‘It looked to us like he was having a heart attack. When we reached him he told us to stay out of the water.’’
Doctors and nurses from a nearby medical centre rushed to Mr Quinlivan’s aid and were able to stabilise him.
There were fears on Friday the shark had damaged his Achilles’ tendon.
Best mate Gary Jones, who lives adjacent to Tallwoods golf course near Mr Quinlivan after the pair both made the move from Newcastle a few years ago, said his friend remained lucid but in pain during the ordeal.
‘‘There’s not many days he doesn’t paddle,’’ Mr Jones said. ‘‘He was very careful, and having been a firie his make-up as a human was being very safety conscious and being alert to any potential dangers.
‘‘Only on Tuesday he was showing a few old mates the beach when he mentioned another bloke who liked to head a few [kilometres] out.
‘‘He said ‘I’m not going out that far. I’m staying around the shoreline, there are too many sharks out there’.’’
Black Head Beach is not netted, although surf club administration director Scott Crawford said the area was not known for large sharks.
‘‘I’ve lived here 30 years and I owned a house here before that, and this is the first type of incident like this I have heard of,’’ Mr Crawford said.
It is unclear what species attacked Mr Quinlivan, although there were reports he told people on the beach he believed it was a great white.
Mr Jones said he didn’t think the attack would deter his friend from paddling.
Mr Quinlivan has legendary status at Newcastle Surf Club, which he represented for years in ironman competitions and surf carnivals.
He won a world masters board rescue championship alongside Dennis Holmes, father of Olympic swimmer Thomas Fraser-Holmes, in the 1990s.
Mr Quinlivan was a long-term fireman stationed at Cooks Hill, where he was station officer before retiring about five years ago.
He was reported to be in a stable condition on Friday night.