Humboldt shark attack victim punched shark, rode wave back to shore
Man hospitalized after shark attack off Humboldt coast
It wasn't until surfer Scott Stephens punched the shark on the side of its head that it relented and let go, seconds after biting him and pulling him underwater off the North Jetty.
Stephens sat upright today, smiling and joking as he recounted the harrowing attack that landed him at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka on Tuesday.
With family and doctors in attendance, the 25-year-old Manila resident and avid surfer told reporters that he was lucky to be able to talk about the incident.
The attack, which happened off the North Jetty around noon, left Stephens with seven or eight deep lacerations, surgeon John Van Speybroeck said.
The wounds did not reach any vital organs or his abdominal cavity, leaving Stephens with less a serious -- but painful -- recovery.
Stephens said he went surfing around 10 a.m. Tuesday and was having a good day. He was catching waves about 150 yards from other surfers at Bunkers, a popular local surf spot near Humboldt Bay.
When the shark bit, Stephens was paddling on his stomach. It immediately pulled him underwater.
"I opened my eyes underwater and punched the shark on the side of the head until it released me," Stephens said. "I saw a lot of blood."
The shark severed Stephens' leash but he was able to get back on his board and -- with the assistance of a wave -- paddle back to shore.
By then he was shouting for help, and several other surfers quickly came to his aid.
"I can't begin to say how appreciative I am of them," Stephens said. "When I reached the beach, I realized how injured I was and how much blood I was losing."
Stephens said the attack left him in shock.
"I really didn't feel much, didn't feel too much pain, until I woke up this morning," he said.
A number of people, including surfer David Hargrave, were in the water and heard Stephens calling for help.
Hargrave and other witnesses said Stephens was able to get to shore on his own power, but was bleeding profusely. Ian Louth, an off-duty first responder, applied pressure to the his wounds while he was loaded into a vehicle to be transported to the hospital, witnesses said.
Blue Lake resident Jason Gabriel drove Stephens from the water's edge to the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and Myrtle Avenue, where emergency personnel met them.
Stephens thanked the strangers that helped him and the doctors that responded.
"Those guys are heroes," he said.
Van Speybroeck said the action of the surfers -- and the quick transport to the hospital -- went a long way in Stephens' recovery.
Because of the multiple lacerations, one surfer laid on Stephens, compressing the wounds and helping to stop the bleeding.
"I would not have thought of lying on somebody," Van Speybroeck said. "You had to have a lot of pressure. That was very clever of the person to do."
Van Speybroeck said luck was on Stephens' side. The surfboard likely took some of the brunt of the bite, possibly keeping the shark's teeth from penetrating organs that would have made surgery riskier and more complicated.
Because of Stephens paddling motion, his arm was not at his side, likely saving the limb. Stephens' fitness also played a role in his ability to get back to shore and handle the trauma, Van Speybroeck said.
He also praised the emergency room team.
"Everybody pitched in," he said. "Nobody pays attention to titles in that situation."
Stephens said he always knew the risks of going in the ocean, and didn't blame the shark for the attack.
"You're entering into their home every time you go surfing," he said. "I have a lot of respect for him."
He estimated that the shark was four feet from nose to dorsal fin and thinks it was a juvenile great white shark.
The attack wouldn't keep him out of the water, Stephens said.
"I will be very scared, I'm sure," he said. "I'll definitely have some mental barriers to get through. I think it'll be worth it."http://www.mercurynews.com/