PEOPLE WHO SURF: Mike Coots, Back On His Foot
“I remember flying down the road to the hospital lying down in the bed of the truck with blood just pouring out of my leg and down through the tailgate. I got attacked pretty early in the morning—around the same time kids were getting to school—and I remember passing all these cars full of parents and kids. As we passed them, they would look at me in the bed of the truck with my foot torn off and they would just pull over. I’ll never forget the look on their face when they realized what was going on.”
He vividly recalls what it felt like to be stalked, attacked, and eaten by another animal.
It’s been 10 years since Mike Coots had his right foot torn off by the mouth of a tiger shark while surfing a secluded break on Kauai’s west side. The 28-year-old Kauai local sees the attack as a turning point in his life, a time when everything changed. His recollection of the violent attack is not the least bit hazy. He vividly recalls what it felt like to be stalked, attacked, and eaten by another animal. From the way his leg felt in the vice-like razor-sharp grip of the shark, to his 100 mph trip in the back of an open-bed truck en route to a hospital, to the painful rehab, to his first surf back since the attack; it’s all clear as crystal to Mike.
In the months following the shark attack that claimed his right foot, Mike’s time was spent going through agonizing corrective surgeries and teeth-gritting rehabilitation sessions. Unable to surf, his attention turned to other things, most notably the camera. Mike’s life was saturated in all things 35 mm. He took lots of photos and earned himself a reputation as a legitimate, well-versed photographer—someone equally capable of pulling off a crisp action shot from the water as well as a dramatic and immaculately composed lifestyle shot on the land.
In time, Mike made his way back into the lineup. With his carbon fiber prosthetic snuggly secured onto his stump, Mike was once again surfing, and surfing well. “It was a little hard at first, but I got the hang of it,” recalls Mike with an air of humility. Embedded within a group of hard-charging Kauai locals, Mike purchased a Jet Ski and began towing into the outer reefs of the island—all on one foot and a metal prosthetic. But towing into bombs would not be the only thing that the Kauai native would use his Jet Ski for.
“A couple of months ago, my friend had the idea to drag a dead pig out to sea and feed it to the sharks and hopefully get a couple of cool photos and video in the process,” says Mike nonchalantly. “So we got our Jet Skis and a 100-pound dead pig, tied it to the back of the ski, and towed it about a mile off the coast. I had my camera lashed to a paddle so I could put the paddle underwater and really get close to the shark and snap off a couple of shots. At first we just sat there with the rotting pig behind us. Nothing happened. But then out of nowhere a huge tiger appeared and went for the bait. It got hold of the pig and just tore it up. It was really heavy; the thing was thrashing so hard that it was rocking the Jet Ski back and forth. I was about a foot away from the thing while it was mauling the pig. It was kind of nuts, but I got the shot.”
For most people who had their body in the mouth of one of the world’s most deadly predators, the idea of documenting a shark attack from mere feet away would seem preposterous. But not to Mike.
“It was such a heavy experience watching the shark eat the pig. But I was so in the moment that I didn’t really have time to think. As far as being scared of sharks goes, I think it’s just part of the territory, but it’s definitely not gonna keep me out of the water.”