‘I’m happy to be alive’: Surfer describes terrifying shark attack

  • Nick Wapner, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student from San Luis Obispo, Calif., was attacked by a great white shark at Montana de Oro State Park on Tuesday. Wapner suffered cuts to his legs and received 50 stitches. He kicked the shark in the head to break free of its grasp on his ankles. TNS

The Sacramento Bee
Published: 1/10/2019 11:32:11 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For Nick Wapner, Tuesday morning at Montana de Oro State Park was a typical day of surfing with friends — an activity that’s been his lifelong passion — as he paddled in for one of the last waves of the day off Sandspit Beach.

Wapner, a sophomore communications major, had met up with some fellow surfers and Cal Poly students to ride the waves on Tuesday.

Then, it happened.

At about 10 a.m. after about an hour in the ocean, Wapner said, a great white shark came up from beneath him as he paddled into position for an incoming set.

He didn’t even see a splash.

“It all happened quickly, but I turned and saw that it had one of my legs in its mouth,” Wapner said.

The shark thrashed and bit down on the lower part of his legs around his ankles in a skirmish that he estimates lasted a “full second,” before Wapner kicked hard and wrangled himself free.

The experienced surfer said he didn’t feel any pain initially as adrenaline shot through his body.

After releasing him, the shark turned in a flash, leaving Wapner with a lasting, haunting image of its entire head, massive jaws and beady eyes as it pivoted away.

“The thing was huge,” Wapner said.

He estimated the predator to be 15 feet in length, with an 18-inch dorsal fin. Wapner believes the shark was biting out of curiosity and realized the object in its mouth wasn’t the taste the fish was looking for.

At the time of the attack, Wapner’s friends were already back on shore, and he recalled screaming to one, “I just got attacked by a shark!” as he paddled for the beach.

Wapner was conscious but bleeding from multiple deep cuts on both legs as one of his friends drove him to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

He received 50 stitches before being discharged in the afternoon.

The 19-year-old Cal Poly student grew up in Palos Verdes near Los Angeles, and regularly surfed at L.A.-area beaches, also serving as an ocean lifeguard at Huntington State Beach.

He said the thought of a shark attack sometimes would cross his mind, as it does most surfers and ocean swimmers, but he’d dismiss the notion fairly quickly.

“It’s such a low-probability event, that it never really seemed like it could be a reality,” Wapner said.

“I’m happy to be alive,” he said, looking back on the incident Tuesday night, tired but thankful it wasn’t worse.

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “I got off really lucky.”

Despite the terrifying close call, Wapner said he loves the ocean too much to stop surfing, adding that “it’s such a big part of my life.”

For now, he’ll rest and recover. “I know I’ll continue to surf,” he said. “But I’ll just take it one day at a time.”

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