Scott Stephens - the 25-year-old surfer who fought off a shark attack last recently - is out of the hospital, recuperating and thankful for the community that came to his aid.
The Humboldt Surfrider Foundation, which holds monthly “Ocean Night” events, raised $1,500 for Stephens last week.
”That was really successful,” Stephens said. “The local support has been incredible.”
Stephens is on his feet, taking short walks, but otherwise resting. He had dozens of staples removed last Thursday, and is taking antibiotics for seven deep lacerations left by the teeth of what is presumed to be a great white shark.
”It’s been a hectic week for me, but especially for my family,” he said.
Stephens and his sister have lived in Manila for about six months, but his parents rushed up from Pleasant Hill following the attack. They stayed with him through last weekend.
”They handled it like a family should,” he said.
Stephens is expected to fully recover in about five months. He suffered deep muscle damage, but the shark’s sharp teeth spared his internal organs.
Stephens has been able to connect with the surfers - then strangers - who rushed to his aid when he paddled back to shore, bleeding and in shock.
Stephens was paddling on his surfboard at Bunkers, a popular local surf spot near Humboldt Bay, when he was suddenly pulled under the water on Oct. 30. He said he punched the attacking shark on the side of its head until it relented and let go, then caught a wave back to shore.
By then, he was shouting for help, and several other surfers quickly came to assist. One man applied pressure to his wounds while another drove him to a waiting ambulance.
News of the attack circulated quickly among local surfers, and Humboldt Surfrider Foundation Chairwoman Jennifer Savage said she was deluged with calls. Savage didn’t know who was hurt until later, but - in a coincidental twist - she and Stephens are neighbors.
Stephens’ mother, June Stephens, said concerned moms called the hospital before his name was released, asking if their sons were injured. The commotion - coupled with Scott Stephens’ amiable reaction and willingness to talk about the incident - led to an outpouring of support.
Savage said more than 200 people showed up at Surfrider’s monthly Ocean Night - roughly twice as many as normal.
”The majority of people were there to support Scott,” she said.
Surfers and the community at large were especially moved because of the grace and fortitude with which Scott Stephens handled the incident, Savage said. He said he holds no grudge against the juvenile great white shark that bit him.
Freshly home from the hospital, he addressed the Ocean Night crowd from the Arcata Theatre Lounge’s giant screen via video call.
”It was really cool,” Savage said. “It was super touching.” June Stephens said she was thankful for the outpouring of support. “I’m so impressed with the Humboldt community,” she said. “It’s very endearing.”
Scott Stephens is adamant that he’ll get back in the water, though he admits that it will take some time for him to fully overcome the trauma.
His mom has a different view.
”I would just be pleased as can be if he never got in the water again,” she said, laughing.
In the meantime, his now famous surfboard has been returned, adorned with a perfect shark bite cutout and signatures of well-wishers who attended Ocean Night. On Wednesday, he opened a package containing a new wetsuit donated by wetsuit manufacturer Xcel.
Scott Stephens said Humboldt County is a lot different than his previous home of Santa Cruz, where the surf community can be territorial, even violent at times.
”The community up here, they’re just loving it,” he said.
More than anything, he’s ready to get back to normal. “I’m so happy to be here and be alive right now,” Scott Stephens said. “If I can give other people a little bit of joy or a little bit of happiness, I think that’s what I’m meant to do.”
SHAUN WALKER/THE TIMES-STANDARD
Shark attack victim Scott Stephens shows his wound and his surfboard with a bite taken out of it at his Manila house on Wednesday. The board was recently signed my numerous well wishers at a Humboldt Surfrider Ocean Night fundraiser for his medical expenses.