While everyone takes a beating in the water now and again, few have ever duked it out with a shark and lived to tell the tale.
That’s what Paul Buckley did when he was attacked on July 7. While surfing in Stilbaai, South Africa, 37-year-old Buckley was attacked by what is believed to be a Great White. He was paddling back to shore when suddenly he was flipped in the air. “I just knew in my gut that it was a shark. It was like a 500 lb. Rottweiler in a very bad mood,” he said. “The force was incredible. The first thing I said when I was attacked was, ‘No, please God not like this.’”
The shark sunk its teeth into his leg, incising a gash 37cm long and 3cm wide. In a desperate effort to fend off the fanged creature, Buckely grabbed its tail. “I feared for my life so I just grabbed it. I thought if I held it by the tail, its mouth could not reach me again,” he said.
And apparently, his tactic worked. The shark released him, and Buckley swam the 100 meters to the sand. Pieter Boeta de Witt, age 16, spotted the thrashing victim and hurried to help Buckley as he scrambled ashore. Boeta and his sister rushed the injured surfer to a local doctor. Buckley was moved to a hospital, where the wound was closed with 150 stitches. He was discharged on Wednesday.
“I owe him one really, because he could have easily come back and clamped his teeth round me but he didn’t and just swam away,” Buckley said. “It’s one of those things that just happens. If you look at the probability, it’s just so unlikely. The shark was doing what comes naturally – looking for food.”
Buckey’s board suffered as well, as the shark’s jaws left a 20-25cm hole in it. Lifeboat spokesman Rico Menezies estimated that the predator was three-and-a-half meters long and postulated that it was a Great White. Though South Africa’s waters do attract a great number of sharks, attacks are rare and happen on average only 6 times a year. Of those, only 12 percent have been fatal.
So why surfers? Scientists claim that sharks may mistake surfers for seals, which are easy prey. According to Menezies, the conditions that day were ideal for a shark attack, as the water was murky and the waves were sizable. He said that two whales were in the area, and speculated that they could have had a calf with them that may have enticed the shark.
The incident has not deterred the surfer, as he’s already eager to get back in the water. “Surfing is my sport and I‘ll paddle out again,” he said. “Once you have the ocean in your blood, it‘s in your blood.”