Surfer has close encounter with Great White shark on Halloween
Surfer Tony Perez didn't have any warning when the great white shark struck.
"I didn't see a thing," the 22-year-old said.
"It hit out of nowhere," he said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. "That's the scariest thing about it. You never know what's going to happen."
It happened this Halloween, just before sundown, when Perez and two friends were about 300 yards off the mouth of the Siletz River surfing some of the best waves of the season.
The trio had been surfing about two and a half hours and muscles were getting fatigued when one of his friends decided to pack it in, saying he had a strange feeling.
All of the elements for "sharky water" were in place — sundown, off the mouth of a river, rainy weather with salmon running and seals. And to top it off, Perez, who had broken his surfboard in the morning, was using a loaner-board from The Oregon Surf Shop — a bright yellow loaner.
Some surfers believe yellow attracts sharks more than other colors, though shark experts say it isn't so.
"I guess Jeff left us out here for feeding time," Perez joked to the friend who'd stayed behind with him to catch a few more waves before the sun went down.
The words were barely out of his mouth when it happened.
"I felt a violent blast on the back of the board," said Perez, who was lying flat on his ride and just happened to have his legs bent with his feet up in the air. "It pulled me back and down, but my head didn't go under water. My feet came down on top of it, and I felt this huge rock-hard body, just this big old beast below me."
"I just started swimming as fast as I could away from him toward my buddy who was about 15 feet away," Perez said. "I swam like mad. I didn't know what to do man."
Perez's board was still attached to his ankle by a short leash. He yanked it to him and jumped back on.
He told his friend, who hadn't seen a thing, what happened. His buddy thought Perez was joking at first.
"I'm not kidding," he said. "We gotta get out of here."
As luck would have it, there were no waves to catch — so it was one long, exhausting sprint to the beach, Perez said. "Of course, I was first to the beach."
As he paddled he thought maybe some huge, angry seal had hit him.
"Then I got to the beach and saw the teeth marks."
The telltale u-shaped bite marks of a large shark stretched from one side of the 16-inch-wide surf board to the other — and up a good 14 inches into its 5-foot-7-inch length.
The shark's mouth had opened wide enough to get around and over the three fins jutting from the end of the board, and the teeth marks it left behind on the board measured 2-inches across.
After examining photos of the board and measurements of the bite marks, shark expert Ralph Collier in Los Angeles, said the attack was indeed from a great white that he estimates was between 16- and 17-feet long and at least 4,000 pounds.
Perez's friend back on shore had seen a large splash behind Perez's board but figured it was a seal.
"I just got lucky," Perez said. "I happened to have my legs up, and that's it. Otherwise I would have been a pirate for Halloween."
Perez didn't see nor hear the shark approach.
"That's the thing about great whites, especially, quick, heavy attacks," he said. "But he bit into a hard, epoxy surfboard, and that's not what he wanted. He expected a big juicy seal and instead got a mouthful of plastic fins and not any bit of me, no blood or anything. So he just backed off."
Perez was reluctant to share his story with the press, and he refused to pose for a picture on the beach in a wet suit with the board.
"I don't want to exploit myself over some act of God," he said. "I'm just lucky to be walking. I'm stoked to be surfing and stoked to still be here. But I don't want to be known as Mr. Shark Attack. I want to be known for my surfing."
That shouldn't be a problem for Perez, who — after only seven years at the sport — is not only one of the best surfers around say his fellow surfers but also a surfer with a sponsorship deal with Xcel wet suits.
"Tony rips," said Norman Eburn, manager of The Oregon Surf Shop in Lincoln City. "He's a super-talented surfer."
Eburn said shark activity as been up at local surf spots.
"This year there's been more than usual, with four or five attacks, more sightings and more bumps," he said.
His theory: "It might have something to do with the dead-zone."
The dead zone to which he refers is a recent reoccurring phenomena of oxygen-depleted water stretching from the central Oregon coast to the central Washington coast that has killed marine life and forced some creatures closer to shore in search of food.
But none of that fazes Perez, who was out surfing the very next morning after the attack — albeit at a different spot.
"I'm not that crazy," Perez said. "I wrote that spot off for a little while. But surfing is all I do. It's really important to me. And after something like that, it's like lightning striking — hopefully, it won't happen again."
For readers who wonder why such an experienced surfer, one who knows all the warning signs of shark water, put himself in such a risky spot, the answer is simple.
"Really good waves," Perez said, as though he were being asked the most obvious question in the world.
As for that yellow board, will he ever surf with one again?