Earlier this month, 38-year-old Eric Steinley was enjoying a lovely little Sunday spent surfing in Sonoma County, California. Then a great white shark attacked him about 50-yards off the coast of Salmon Creek Beach.
He was able to alert others in the water to the trouble he was in, and a nearby stranger was able to fashion a surfboard strap into a tourniquet around his right leg to stop the bleeding and potentially save his life.
According to The Guardian, Steinley punched the shark in the face as it had its jaws around his leg. It was enough to force the shark to release him. Another surfer quickly helped him ashore and tied off a tourniquet, and then other surfers joined in to help.
They tied a second tourniquet around his leg and used a longboard as a stretcher to carry him to a helicopter pick-up point. From there, he was flown to Santa Rosa Memorial hospital, where doctors performed two emergency surgeries to save his leg.
It remains extremely rare for sharks to attack people unprovoked. However, a report from the University of Florida indicated that 2020 was the deadliest year for shark attacks since 2013, with ten deaths stemming from unprovoked attacks. Despite the rise in fatal attacks, the number of overall shark attacks continues to fall.
In the last 20-years, there have been five fatal shark attacks in California. Great white sharks are believed to be responsible for all of those incidents.
“The feeling was very heavy, like swimming with a bag of bricks on you.
I was in a lot of pain and still thinking, you know, ‘I’m either going to lose my leg or I’m gonna die. It was like a clamp right around my leg. And we went underwater together in slow motion.”
As the shark dragged him underwater, his instincts kicked in, and he knew his only hope was to try punching the shark.
“I punched this thing. And I mean, you can see just from grazing its teeth. I cut my hand. It was a measly punch compared to how big this creature was.”
Jared Davis was surfing nearby when he said he watched the situation unfold. He witnessed Steinley disappear underwater and could see the shark’s tail fin, so he swam towards the commotion, hoping to help.
“He was saying, ‘Shark,’ he was saying, ‘Out,’ he was saying, ‘Help.”
As Davis helped him paddle to shore, Steinley said he thought he was going to die before making it to shore.
“I started to see spots, and then I know, you know, though I’m definitely I’m not going to make it. And I catch up to Jared, and he paddles next to me.
He goes, ‘You’re going to make it, don’t look at your leg, let’s just keep going.’ And then we paddled in together until a wave came, and then I gave it my all.”
Stanley said he is incredibly grateful that all the other surfers rallied together and helped get him to safety.
“All of the surfers that were with me out in the water came out altogether and grabbed this big longboard and put me on that longboard. They held me on the board, kept up the board, and carried me all the way up the steps, saving time for when the ambulance got there.”
While his injuries are not life-threatening, doctors did report that the shark bite did sever a nerve in Steinley’s leg, and he might not recover full use of the appendage. The doctors also said had his fellow surfers not acted so quickly to stop the bleeding and get him to the helicopter pad, then he probably would have lost the leg.
Despite the life threatening experience, Steinley said he has no plans to stop surfing.
“I still want to be part of the surfing lifestyle. I’m just so thankful, still in disbelief that I’m alive because of it.”