True Stories: Scott Stephens’ Great White Shark Attack
As told by Scott Stephens and featured in the new (May 2013) issue of TransWorld SURF magazine
Tuesday, October 30, 2012—the day before Halloween—started like any other morning in my life. I filled up a mug of coffee, loaded my car, and headed to the beach to surf. Fall had been good to Humboldt Bay’s surf-exposed peninsula and this morning followed suit. Smoke from a nearby power plant drifted up and over Samoa Boulevard, hinting of offshore southeast winds and groomed conditions off the North Jetty. I remember the first thing I noticed when I eased onto the beach at the end of Bunker Road was a large flock of shore birds flying low to the surf, reflecting shimmering silver like the offshore ocean spray. I tried to film the spectacle on my phone—but you just had to be there to appreciate it.
The morning looked perfect, high-tide peaks broke up and down the beach, most of the action focused where an underwater canyon funnels in the approaching swells and maximizes their size and intensity. The water looked clean and clear—characteristic of October. As I began suiting up into my 5mm wetsuit I got a call from my friend Teddy asking how the surf looked. I laughed and asked him how he knew I was checking the surf. “I guess I know you too well,” he answered.
Once in the water I ran into another buddy, Blake, and we spoke briefly about how clear and beautiful the water was. A set rolled in and I took a left, separating myself from the rest of the surfers on the north end of the peak. A channel brought me back to the outside, and I caught three more waves in quick succession, laughing at my good luck. My arms felt good, finally back in paddle shape thanks to all my recent surfing.
And then, my luck changed in a heartbeat. Mid-paddle, from behind me and out of the corner of my left eye something dark broke the surface and I felt a weight land on my back. My first thought was it was a large seal, but as I was being drug underwater, feeling the force and power of being shaken in the jaws of a top predator, I began fearing for my life. I felt so small and insignificant, but I opened my eyes underwater and came face to face with the first shark I’d seen in 13 years of surfing. Its face was black and streamlined, the nose jutting forward over an almost grinning mouth of teeth. It was at least four feet from the tip of the nose to the beginning of the dorsal, and its right eye was as large as a baseball. My right fist made contact with the shark just behind this eye. It felt like punching a bag of concrete. I can’t describe what I was feeling at this moment—some eerie combination of shock and terror. And then as quickly as the attack had started, it was all over. I was released, and the shark was gone into the depths.
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