Not many people can say they have been bitten by a shark and lived to surf again.
Communication studies sophomore Nick Wapner was attacked by a shark at Montaña de Oro State Park off Sandspit Beach in Jan. 2019. Both his legs were bitten, but after only six weeks, Wapner was back in the water.
“It’s just how I was raised. I was in the water since I was five years old and I work on the beach,” Wapner said. “I basically spend every day during the summer at the beach.”
Wapner said his family was hesitant about him going back out again, but he said they knew he was not going to be able to stay away. Just six weeks later, Wapner went to Morro Rock Beach with a friend to surf for the first time after the incident.
“I was kind of hesitant, but excited and just ready to be back,” Wapner said.
“I was kind of hesitant, but excited and just ready to be back”
With his new wetsuit, booties, and surfboard, Wapner was ready to get back into the ocean — except he had forgotten one thing: the leash that connects the surfer to the surfboard.
“I didn’t realize this at the time, but when [the shark] bit me, its teeth went through my leash, and then through my wet suit and into my leg,” Wapner said. “The leash was shredded, but I made it work.”
As he paddled out for the first time into open water, Wapner said he was on high alert, constantly checking behind him and underneath him.
“It was just the act of sitting still,” Wapner said. “When I was still and not moving anywhere and not doing anything, that allowed my mind to wander. But if I was riding waves, the whole idea just floated away.”
That day, Wapner caught his first wave and said it was a feeling he would never forget.
“It was just so much relief,” Wapner said. “Coming back and then standing up on a wave for the first time it was like, ‘Oh my god this is what I’ve been waiting for.'”
“Coming back and then standing up on a wave for the first time it was like, ‘Oh my god this is what I’ve been waiting for'”
Wapner suffered from severe gashes on both of his legs from the shark’s teeth, but they are now healed, leaving just a few scars. He said he still has some mild discomfort in his legs when he is repeating certain motions.
Wapner said he is more cautious and tries to surf with one or two people. He surfs three to five times a week now and said he has been back to surf at Montaña de Oro State Park where he was bitten.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I was doing and try and get back to where I was before everything happened and just build from there,” Wapner said.