It wasn’t until I saw my board floating nearby, leash bitten through and a 14-inch diameter half circle missing out of it that I put thought to my injuries. As I got back on my board and started paddling to shore I noticed the red. Blood mixing with water, creating a crimson pool around me—a massive hole in my wetsuit and torso that I knew was serious. Screaming for help while I attempted paddling to shore I hoped the other surfers 150 yards away would hear me. I kept paddling, wondering how much blood I had left to lose. A wave came to my rescue, lifting me to shore on my stomach where another surfer met me. He grabbed my board and I stumbled onto the beach, where two other surfers had gathered. My hand did nothing to stop the bleeding, so I lay on my side and one of the surfers, Ian, an off duty EMT had the quick—and as the surgeon would later call it—creative, thought to lay on my wound and use his body weight to apply pressure. Luckily for me, driving on the beach is allowed here and right when I needed it most, another surfer, Jason, drove by on his way home. I was quickly loaded into the back of his truck and driven almost to the hospital, where I was intercepted by an ambulance in Eureka. From there, everything continued incredibly—the head surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital was fortunately on duty and fresh out of surgery. I was going to make it. Modern medicine saved my life, but not without the help of my fellow surfers. They are my heroes.
In a sport made for kings, surfing remains a pursuit in which the playing field is unlimited, unbiased, and unconquerable. Perhaps it’s this sense of unconquerable magnitude that drew the great Polynesian kings to love the feeling of gliding atop the ocean. I can only imagine that if your job were to be king, you would seek comfort from places where you are not in charge.
In the wake of the attack I was forced to stay out of the water, but I found myself riding a different wave—a wave of compassion and support from the local community. That support brought me back standing tall and mighty like a Polynesian king. I don’t know why I was so lucky, but I am given a sense of joy for being alive. It’s a joy that I feel is my duty to spread with the world. An infectious stoke that started inside the jaws of the mighty great white, and spread into the community that has supported me.
Call it a second chance, borrowed time—I would have never thought a life-threatening accident could bring such a clarity to life. Exactly four weeks to the day of the accident and after a mere two weeks of physical therapy, I was able to once again go surfing. The smell of wax, the feel of neoprene, the salt in my eyes—it was as if I were experiencing it for the first time. As for the mental barrier of getting back in the ocean, it came to me in a fortune cookie: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Simply, life is too boundless to turn your back on your dreams and stop embracing something you love.
I have written this to thank everyone who has supported my family and me—for the boundless compassion and generosity. I can only hope to be able to one day give back the love that has been shown to me.—Scott Stephens
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