Nat Geo WILD: ‘I Survived a Shark Attack’

By Becky Chapman, shark attack survivor

August 19th, 2001. I was going to spend the day at the beach like any other Sunday. As I was leaving my house, my mother warned me of the three shark attacks at the surfing contest at New Smyrna Beach the day before. Thinking the odds of me being attacked were similar to winning the lottery, I told her not to worry and left to pick up my friend. His father gave us the exact same warning, and we both gave him the same response, not to worry. The day was a typical late summer beach day, as many of my friends were at the same beach and I spend most of the day surfing in the water. Around 1:00 pm, a summer rain shower blew through sending most of the beachgoers to the nearby restaurants for lunch. My friend and I continued surfing but after the rain the swell died down quite a bit and there weren’t many rideable waves and we began talking about paddling in shortly. I was standing in hip-deep water with my board floating next to me when I feel a tremendous impact to my lower left leg. The first thought through my head was confusion as to why a tarpon would be that far north. That thought was quickly replaced by the reality of the situation when the animal started thrashing around with my leg in its mouth and I saw the gray back and the tall thick dorsal fin of a 6′ shark. Instinct sent my fist hammering down on any part of the animal that was reachable and before I knew it, it was over and the shark was gone. I realized the severity of the injury when I reached down and felt gnarled tissue where my Achilles tendon should have been. I tried to start exiting the water, however due to the severe damage to the calf muscle, artery, and Achilles tendon, my ankle rolled with no muscle to control or support it. I began to call out for help but the only people around, due to the afternoon rain, were my friend and a single man fishing on shore. My friend came over and I put my arm over his shoulders and hobbled in until the concerned fisherman dropped his gear, came running out to the water and helped carry me in. I laid on the sand waiting for the ambulance to arrive as the lifeguards made a tourniquet out of my surfboard leash and used shredded towels to keep pressure on the wound. The news crew, present on the beach due to the shark attacks the day before, arrived prior to the ambulance. Once they arrived, I was put on a stretcher and transported to Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach. En route to the hospital we picked up another man who had been bit in the foot by a 3′ black tip and needed stitches. I was hospitalized for 4 days before I was released.

For more about Becky and the other shark attack survivors who will be appearing on “Shark Attack Experiment: LIVE,” visit the ‘I Survived a Shark Attack’ Photo Gallery.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Alison Walsh is Director, Digital Media, for National Geographic Channels. She loves history, space, cats, and the Oxford comma.