"I saw the shark breeching out of the water with him in its mouth!"
Lewis Samuels is what you’d call a soul surfer if that term hadn’t been so corrupted. Lew surfs lonely big waves in the sharkiest of northern Californian waters and he ain’t afraid of either.
Lew has five pals who’ve been attacked by great white sharks. One, Royce Fraley, has been attacked… twice.
Lew was there for one of ’em.
“We were really far out to sea, literally, about a kilometre out to sea. It took 45 minutes to paddle out,” says Lew. “Out of the corner of my eye there was this explosion. And as I turned around, I saw the shark breeching out of the water with him in its mouth. Then they fell down in an explosion of whitewater, like when a whale breaches. Fifteen feet is as big as a car and they’re a lot fatter in person than you’d think they would be. And he was in the fish’s mouth and there was this fucking impact in the water and then there was nothing there, gone, like a fucking whirlpool of displaced whitewater where he’d been. There was no one else near him, just another friend way up the line, and so when the attack happened, what are you fucking going to do? You’re not going to leave your friend out there.”
But, says, Lew, “Let me be fucking honest. My first fucking response was to paddle away. But I thought about it, he was my friend, and whether or not he comes up he needs my help. And so I paddled back over, got there and he popped up out of the water and he pretty much paddled up onto my back, literally, trying to get out of the water. I said, ‘It’s alright, man! Hold on! I’ll paddle you in, man!”
What does a shark attack victim look like? “I didn’t want to look. We were 45 minutes out to sea and I figured he’d have a leg missing. I had this 200 pound guy on my back but… he fucking seemed okay. We started paddling next to each other. A friend, Britt, a lifeguard, saw what happened from a distance and started paddling with us, checking him, and he goes, ‘Where’s he fucking hurt?’ It didn’t make sense. Finally, we got in, I ran to a pay phone a mile away ’cause there’s no cell phone service and when I got back down there he was with an ambulance.”
The injuries, says Lew, were “like little scratches. The whole attack was a like a cartoon, like a toothpick in a dog. The board had gotten stuck in the mouth of the shark and it didn’t clamp on him. He was holding onto the board as the shark took him under and he got the scratches when he bounced off the shark.”
Lew says he finds comfort in the fact that great whites in northern California are different to the more energetic South African and Australian breed. In that, they have a different hunting pattern. They might bite but they’ll let go after the initial bleed and wait for you to bleed out instead of taking you down straight away.
“That gives you time to get medical help,” says Lew.
How did the attack affect Lew? Did he surf the spot again?
“What are you going to do? I was out there the next day. The waves were good.”