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 Wednesday during a press conference, smiling and joking as he recounted the harrowing attack that landed him in St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka a day earlier.
With family and doctors in attendance, the 25-year-old Manila resident and avid surfer told reporters that he was lucky to be around to talk about the incident.
The attack, which happened off the North Jetty around noon Tuesday, Oct. 30, left Stephens with at least seven deep lacerations, surgeon John Van Speybroeck said. The wounds resembled scalpel lacerations, he said, only slightly more jagged due to the shark pulling and shaking Stephens’ body.
The wounds did not reach any vital organs or his abdominal cavity, leaving Stephens with a less 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 hit him, 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’ surfboard 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 from Whitethorn, applied pressure to his wounds while Stephens was loaded into a vehicle to be transported to the hospital.
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 treated him. __"Those guys are heroes," he said.
Van Speybroeck said the action of the surfers - and quick transport to the hospital - went a long way in Stephens’ recovery.
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 this is the first shark bite he has seen in his 30 years in Eureka. He said luck was definitely 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."
Emergency room physician Diana Yandell said Stephens was near hypothermic when he arrived, and there was significant tissue damage and concern about lung damage. He was taken to surgery from the emergency room within 30 minutes.
"I was very proud of how the emergency room mobilized," Yandell said.
Hundreds of staples were used to close Stephens’ wounds. He remains on antibiotics to fight potential infection from the shark’s bite. Yandell said he would have several months of healing before the scabs from his wounds were completely gone.
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.
Scott Stephens’ sister Amy Stephens said she had just arrived at Humboldt State University when she got a call that her brother was in the hospital.
"To be honest, a shark attack was the first thing that popped into my head," she said. "It was a very scary moment. It took me a while to want to call my mom."
When she was reassured by emergency room personnel that he would pull through, she phoned her parents - who traveled up from Pleasant Hill that night.
Amy Stephens said her brother grew up surfing and abalone diving.
"It’s definitely part of his existence," she said.
As a fellow surfer, Amy Stephens said she was rattled by the attack as much as her brother.
"It’s gonna take me probably longer than him to get back out," she said.
The attack won’t keep him out of the water, Scott 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."
1. SHAUN WALKER/THE TIMES-STANDARD
Surfer Scott Stephens of Manila describes his wounds at a news conference at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka on Wednesday morning, about 24 hours after he was attacked by a shark while paddling out to catch a wave near the entrance to Humboldt Bay. Stephens called fellow surfers on the scene ‘heroes’ who came to his aid, applying pressure to his multiple wounds and transporting him from the beach to where emergency personnel were able to take over and deliver him to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka.
2. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Surfers on the North Jetty show the shark attack victim’s surfboard, which had a large chunk taken out of it by what one expert says was likely a great white.