Great White Shark Victim Recounts Attack: 'I Wasn't Going to Be Able to Paddle Quickly Enough'

A shark attack victim has recalled his experience of being in the ocean with a great white that had just bitten his leg. Eric Steinley, 38, was attacked off the coast of California on October 3 and is now recovering at home.

Steinley was bitten on his right leg while surfing a few miles north of Bodega Bay. The shark knocked him from his board and pulled him beneath the surface of the water. "It was all in a second," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I didn't know what was happening. It could have been a car. I remember my eyes were open. I remember looking up. As you get deeper, you see less of the sun."

He said he remembered the advice to punch a shark if attacked and felt for the animal's weaker points: "There was a very distinct feeling to the skin, it was almost leathery, smooth. I was feeling around, kind of like you do in the dark looking for a light switch. Boom—there was the eye."

The shark released him and Steinley managed to get back on his board and call for help from other nearby surfers.

In an interview with The Press Democrat, Steinley was asked if he looked back to see if the shark was closing in on him as he paddled towards the shore. "Yes, but not very often," he told the newspaper. "I just figured, if it wanted to take me, I wasn't going to be able to paddle quickly enough."

Steinley made it to shore, where he was helped by other surfers and provided with first aid. He was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where surgeons operated on his leg. The Press Democrat reported the shark had severed his popliteal vein, which is a major blood vessel.

He has now had his 70 stitches removed, but is still in pain and cannot put weight on his right foot. It is unclear whether he will be able to regain full use of it.

"I'm told that [it] can get better over time, but we won't know for a few months," he said.

Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare. Throughout 2020, there were 57 known unprovoked attacks, 10 of which were fatal. The U.S. had the highest rates of unprovoked attacks, with 33 of the 57.

The spot where Steinley was attacked was in what is known as the "red triangle." It is a spot where a large number of mammals, such as seals and sea lions, congregate. In the fall, large numbers of great white sharks visit the region to feed. As a result, human/shark interactions are high. Over one in three of all U.S. great white shark attacks on humans takes place in the red triangle.

Researchers believe great whites mistake swimmers and surfers for seals. A recent study showing a "shark eye view" of the surface of the water revealed seals and sea lions look almost identical to surfers and swimmers from below.

great white shark
Stock photo of a great white shark. Eric Steinley was attacked on October 3 while surfing off the coast of California. Getty Images