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Needlefish Nightmare: Small Beak, Big Problem

Kiting off the beaten path in Egypt, Ismail Khater finds himself alone, bleeding, and being dragged out to sea. The cause? One skinny little fish. Read his story below. 
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While I was finishing my Master thesis in Hamburg, I had arranged an 8-day kiteboarding trip along the east coast of Egypt on the Red Sea with 3 of my friends. We went to camp on the beach in “Ras Banas”, which is currently under the Egyptian Military command and requires a special permit to enter. The area is well known for it’s rich and lively sea environment. Tons of species can be found in the water along the reefs.
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One hour before sunset on the day of our arrival, the wind kicked in. I decided that setting up my tent could wait, and I went straight to pumping up my kite. I was anxious to get on the water. As I was scouting the the water beneath me, I could see there were lots of fish and rays fleeing my path. It reminded me  it’d be wise not to leave the reef, and that heading into the open sea so late in the day would probably not be smart.
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So, I chose to cruise an area roughly 1.6 km long within the reef, and that’s where the accident happened. Even though it all transpired very quickly,I remember it as if it occurred in slow-motion. I heard something splashing in the water about 15 meters away and turned to see a 50 cm Houndfish (sometimes referred to as a Crocodile Needlefish) swimming toward me, gaining speed below surface. Just as I attempted to edge harder to change my direction, the fish did the same,  jumping out of the water and spearing my leading leg directly under the knee.
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The entire fish beak, about 8 cm long, had pierced my leg and was stuck. My first reaction was to grab the fish by the gills in one hand, then squeeze and twist it, to split it in two. The next thing I did was grasp its head and attempted to pull the beak out. Right after I’d done both, I fell into the water. My kite went down too.Looking to my right, I realized somewhere in the process, I had been dragged into the open sea. At first, I thought I should release the kite and swim back. But, looking to my left, I realized I was very far from shore. I worried about losing too much blood and also about attracting other fish in an area known for its hammerhead sharks. In the end, I decided to try and flip the kite and get it back in the air, which I did successfully. I eventually made it back to the beach and shouted for the help of my friends.Except for the four of us, there was no one around. No medical services, not even a cellular network. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that it was already getting dark, leaving us no choice but to stay over night and drive the next morning to the nearest airport. When we finally got to medical services, the x-ray showed that 5 cm of the fish’s lower jaw was still in my leg. Later, it was determined that it had to be surgically removed.
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Now, 8 weeks post-surgery I am finally getting my physical strength back with the help of physiotherapy. Hopefully, my next step will be preparing myself mentally to get back on the water. Kitesurfing is not something I intend to give up!  If there’s one thing this experience (which wasn’t pleasant, but easily could have been worse) made me realize, it’s how much respect the ocean demands. As humans, we are merely guests on the sea.
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Ismail Khater is originally  from Egypt but currently lives in Hamburg, Germany. He learned to kite in 2008 while living between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Most of his kiting experience has taken place on the Red Sea. 

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