Surfer Tom Larson's instinct kicks in when he feels a bite: Shark attack shakes him up
By Winston Ross
Published: Thursday, August 31, 2006
FLORENCE - The first sign of danger came right after the small pack of surfers hit the water Tuesday off the South Jetty. The wind was blissfully dead. Small waves were breaking just off shore. And Tom Larson's buddy Keenan Keeley thought he saw a dorsal fin.
"We were like, `No, dude, that's a porpoise,' " Larson said. "We'd seen some porpoises in the water earlier."
It didn't look "sharky" out, Larson recalled. No ominous overcast skies, no sea lions barking, no dead fish on shore. Just a calm, idyllic day for surfing.
As evening came, the sun dropped low in the sky. Larson angled his longboard out of the water to block the light. Normally, the group would have packed it in by then. But they'd driven from Eugene after work, and the waves were still breaking clean.
His feet dangling in the water, the 23-year-old welder says he suddenly felt something grab him by the foot, yanking him off the board. He looked down and saw a 2-foot fin and an 8- to 10-foot long creature, circling him.
advertisement It was a shark.
"It clamped down and started shaking my foot," Larson said.
Instinct kicked in. Larson screamed "Shark!" and reached for his board.
"I heard him screaming," said Larson's brother Sam, 21. "I looked and saw him splashing, holding onto his board, half in the water. He had a complete look of terror on his face. All the color had left his face. I guess we were both in shock, because I couldn't see in color. Then at least two feet out of the water, I saw this black dorsal fin swimming around him. The tail lashed out and threw a bunch of spray. That's when it grabbed him again."
Tom Larson, pulled down to his chest in the water, says he stabbed at the shark with the tip of his surfboard - once, twice, three times, then missed.
"It just felt like a vice, a bear trap clamping down," the older Larson said. "There wasn't any pain - probably because my adrenaline was going."
By the fifth stab, the big fish was gone.
"The scariest thing was paddling in," Larson said.
On shore, he surveyed his injuries. The bites had torn the toe off the surf bootie on his right foot, and he'd begun to bleed through his wet suit. He wrapped a shirt around his wounds and limped to the car, shrugging off an ambulance called by a passer-by in favor of a free ride to Peace Harbor Hospital in Florence.
More than 30 stitches later on the eight lacerations on his right foot, Larson recuperated at his mother's house in Eugene on Wednesday, pledging to get back in the water in a week or two.
"Nobody's ever been attacked twice," he said.
Shark attacks in Oregon remain quite rare. Since 2000, only three shark attacks have been recorded in state waters, according to West Coast shark researcher Ralph Collier. None were fatal.
"Most of the interactions between white sharks and humans are the result of investigation" by the shark, Collier said. "The shark does not mistake the person for a seal, which has been proposed in many years."
Rather, with salmon and steelhead spawning this time of year and swimming from the ocean up rivers, sharks and sea lions often gather at river mouths.
Humans aren't a natural prey, so most sharks lose interest after getting a taste.
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