A PADDLER who went missing during the Waitui Outrigger International Championships at Suva Point on Thursday night said all he could think of while at sea was being eaten by sharks.
A first-timer to the sport, Timothy Fong, 21, was out at sea for more than four hours after part of his canoe broke.
"When I was out on the reef, halfway between the sandbank and the passage, I got caught in a huge wave and the back-arm of my canoe broke," said Fong.
"The only time I saw someone was when the wave took me high up, but when it came down I found myself in the water.
"All I was thinking about was the sharks and I wanted to get back on my canoe as fast as I could.
"I swam for about 20 minutes before I managed to hold it and swim to Makuluva."
Fong said the rubber of his canoe came off and he decided to fix it first.
"It was lucky I had a spare rubber with me," he said.
"After that, I paddled back but was confused where the starting point was because by then it was dark.
"The only thing I could see were the lights from the National Stadium that acted as my beacon."
Fong paddled toward the lights until he saw people waiting on the shorefront.
"When I reached the beach, everyone was shouting.
"I actually thought everybody had left," the relieved paddler said yesterday.
Fong said it was an experience he would never forget.
"This was my first time in this sport and it taught me a lot, especially to be more careful out at sea and never to panic."
Yesterday, the navy stepped up its patrol at the championship after Thursday's incident.
Nadi Bay Club secretary Collette Samson said while Fong was missing, everyone on the beach were concerned and discussing ways to help the navy and a search party that was put out to sea.
"Everybody was extremely worried about him we were just getting ready to go out and help the navy with the search when Fong paddled in," she said.
Fiji Outrigger Canoe Racing Association president Colin Philip the navy and officials at the tournament were on full alert following the incident. "We definitely learnt something on Thursday and we reorganised our rescue boats today (yesterday)."
Adapted from Fijitimes Online