Man fights off shark

Jeff Horton didn’t just escape a shark’s attack Sunday morning.

He fought the shark. He hit. He pummeled. He landed some shots.

It was, in his own words, “do or die.”

And he didn’t want to die.

“I finally got one nice punch into the eye,” the 25-year-old said. “I put some really good hits on it, for sure.”

Horton was in good spirits Monday as he recounted the North Shore incident that left him shaken, but alive.

“I was pretty scared,” he said.

It was a clear, sunny morning, good wave action, and Horton had been surfing with about 10 others for about three hours at Pila‘a Beach near Kilauea.  

At one point, a few surfers spotted a fin and tail in the water, but weren’t worried.

“I didn’t think much of it,” he said.

Twenty minutes later, around 11 a.m., he did.

Horton was sitting on his surfboard some 200 yards from shore waiting to catch a wave, legs hanging in the water, when he looked down to his left and saw a large shape — something — coming toward him. First, he thought it was a stingray, dark on top, white on the bottom.

It moved fast.

“It came flying straight toward me,” he said.

The shark went after Horton’s left leg, but the surfer yanked it up as the jaws clamped down on his board.

The impact rolled Horton off the board and onto the shark, and he latched on. He was, he said, riding a shark. He held on to the fin with one hand, punched with the other. He slugged. He shouted. He kept swinging.

“I started punching as hard as I could,” he said.

He estimated he landed eight blows.

It was when the former boxer jammed his knuckle into the shark’s eye, it retreated.

The shark spit the board out and flung Horton a few feet into the air. He scrambled back on his board, stunned, and with the help of another surfer caught a wave and paddled for shore.

The shark followed, briefly, but didn’t attack again.

On land, a happy Horton and others shared a group hug, talked and celebrated. A vacationer even gave him $50 and told him to buy a bottle.

He escaped with no injuries, just a few scratches from the shark’s skin, and a heckuva story to tell.

Horton was fortunate.

According to hawaiisharks.com, “Tiger sharks are considered particularly dangerous because of their size, and their indiscriminate feeding behavior.

They will eat almost anything, and often feed on objects at the water’s surface. Although it’s never been proven, some bites on people may be the result of investigatory behavior; the shark bites an object (in this case a person) to determine whether it is an acceptable food source.”

While there had been no reported shark attacks around Kauai this year, three were recorded in 2012.

Sarah Blade, county spokeswoman, said beachgoers should notify authorities of any shark sightings – either by notifying a lifeguard or by contacting Police Dispatch at 241-1711. Upon notification, it is standard protocol for the Ocean Safety Bureau to monitor the area and close the beach to swimming for at least an overnight period, she said.

A tiger shark was reportedly spotted near Rock Quarry Beach last week.

Horton, a surfer since he was 14, moved to Kauai three years ago from Washington, D.C. He’s seen sharks while spearfishing, but this was the first to go after him.

The shark left a semi-circle imprint of its jaws, an inch deep in the yellow, seven-foot board given to Horton by a friend.

The board won’t go back in the water. It’s being reserved for display status only — a tale of survival.

“I’m going to put it up on my wall,” he said.

Horton, by the way, surfed Monday at another North Shore beach. It was mellow, calm and relaxed. And best, no sharks.

“I’ll surf the rest of my life,” he said.

• Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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