MONTEREY, Calif. — Eric Tarantino wasn’t thinking he was going to get bitten by a great white.
Dawn patrol, the surf was up, and the 29-year-old was paddling for a wave in the early morning light on Oct. 29, 2011, at Marina State Beach just north of Monterey.
Then something hit him like a truck.
“I didn’t see it, I didn’t hear it, I didn’t have any idea. That first hit, it’s so powerful. It’s disorienting, but you know what’s happening.”
This was not a tentative exploration. This great white had made up its mind that Tarantino was on the menu for the day.
The shark, estimated at 16 to 17 feet in length, impaled Tarantino’s red surfboard with the sharp pointy teeth of its lower jaw while the serrated teeth of its upper jaw closed on his shoulder and head, striking a glancing blow to his face and neck, then settling on his arm.
It then dove down, deep and fast, carrying him toward the bottom.
Tarantino opened his eyes. “It was quiet, and I couldn’t hear anything. I was just conscious of myself being pulled. I didn’t see a single fin on it. I didn’t see its white underbelly. All I saw, when I saw it, was gray, like a wall.”
He kicked at the shark. The sides felt like cement. It either released him, or his arm popped free. He found his board and paddled ashore with his surfing partner, Brandon McKibben, of Salinas, his arm pumping blood into the water.
“I knew I was hurt, but I couldn’t feel any pain.”
He thought if he could just get to the parking lot, he’d be OK. He noticed suddenly a lot of people were on the beach.
“They helped me so much,” he said. One man who applied a tourniquet to his arm knew what to do because he had survived a great white shark attack himself.
Tarantino was flown to a hospital where his wounds were stitched. The bite had missed the carotid artery in his neck by a millimeter. If it had been nicked, he could have bled to death within minutes.
Now he lives on the beachfront in Monterey and works in a family business.
He eventually returned to surfing, although he doesn’t go in the early morning or evening, and he waits until there are a few other people in the water.
He has not gone back to Marina State Beach, which is known for having great whites.
“I think about it. I think about sharks. I try to reduce the chance that it could ever happen again because you hear all these statistics, because you hear that there’s a chance of 1 in 50 billion, whatever they say, that you’re more likely to get killed by bees. But I’m not around bee farms all day, I’m in the water all day.”