Af­ter at­tack by shark, Cal Poly stu­dent is again en­joy­ing surf­ing, life

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY NICK WIL­SON

Four months ago, Cal Poly stu­dent Nick Wap­ner was surf­ing off the coast of Mon­taña de Oro State Park when a great white shark sud­denly chomped down on his legs.

The bites from the es­ti­mated 15-foot shark could have cost Wap­ner his life. But he in­stinc­tively kicked and freed him­self as the fish twisted away from him, glid­ing back into the wa­ter, its mas­sive, fe­ro­cious-look­ing head inches away.

The marks from that Jan. 8 at­tack off Sand­spit Beach re­main, in­clud­ing a patch of dis­col­ored skin by Wap­ner’s right an­kle and a scar on his left shin that re­sem­bles a Nike swoosh sym­bol.

Although Wap­ner, 19, still has sore­ness and the lack of some feel­ing in his right foot, he said he’s 95 per­cent bet­ter and ex­pects to feel fully re­stored soon.

“I went surf­ing again about six weeks af­ter it hap­pened and the skin was closed up,” said Wap­ner, whose stitches were re­moved about two weeks af­ter the at­tack. “It was a lit­tle scary to go out the first time. For the first five min­utes, I was think­ing about (the shark at­tack), but then I got into the swing of things and I thought about it less.”

‘‘

I WENT SURF­ING AGAIN ABOUT SIX WEEKS AF­TER IT HAP­PENED AND THE SKIN WAS CLOSED UP. IT WAS A LIT­TLE SCARY TO GO OUT THE FIRST TIME. FOR THE FIRST FIVE MIN­UTES, I WAS THINK­ING ABOUT (THE SHARK AT­TACK), BUT THEN I GOT INTO THE SWING OF THINGS AND I THOUGHT ABOUT IT LESS.

Nick Wap­ner, whose stitches were re­moved about two weeks af­ter the at­tack.

Wap­ner said that he has re­gained his love for surf­ing — and has a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for life, too.

“I really do en­joy surf­ing and life in gen­eral more,” Wap­ner said. “Be­fore the at­tack hap­pened, I’d lost the stoke. But now, I just cher­ish my ex­pe­ri­ences. I re­al­ize that it can be taken away at any minute.”

The bites didn’t come close to any ar­ter­ies, though they reached up to his thigh.

Wap­ner, who started surf­ing at the age of 5, goes out a cou­ple of times per week, typ­i­cally to Morro Bay. And he has been back to surf at Mon­taña de Oro near Los Osos once.

De­spite painful mem­o­ries of the shark at­tack, Wap­ner said he’d go back to Mon­taña de Oro again.

“The last time I went out, the waves weren’t that great,” Wap­ner said. “I’ll surf there again, when the con­di­tions are right.”

Wap­ner, a sopho­more com­mu­ni­ca­tions ma­jor at Cal Poly, is tak­ing an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian pro­gram at Cuesta Col­lege in San Luis Obispo. The for­mer life­guard doesn’t yet have a set ca­reer goal.

Wap­ner said that he was con­tacted by media from around the coun­try dur­ing the week of the Jan. 8 at­tack.

That in­cluded calls from the Los An­ge­les Times and Los An­ge­les-area tele­vi­sion news sta­tions such as KCAL and CBS in­ter­ested in hear­ing the Pa­los Verdes na­tive’s story.

“It was all a lit­tle over­whelm­ing,” Wap­ner said. “I’m study­ing about all this in my classes, but this was learning about it (first hand) and look­ing at what I could be do­ing. It was in­ter­est­ing.”

De­spite being woozy from the in­juries and med­i­ca­tion, Wap­ner re­peat­edly took var­i­ous media mem­bers through the se­quence of events, re­liv­ing the at­tack.

“One ques­tion that was kind of baf­fling that I got was ‘How much did it hurt?’ ” Wap­ner said. The an­swer? “A lot.” Wap­ner said that he re­turned to class within a week of the in­ci­dent. He tried to keep a “low pro­file” in a de­sire to let things to get back to normal, he said, although he had to wres­tle with crutches.

In fact, he was in an oceanog­ra­phy class when a pro­fes­sor men­tioned that being at­tacked by a shark is ex­tremely rare. The stu­dent chuck­led at the mem­ory, quot­ing an un­proven statis­tic that more peo­ple die an­nu­ally from fall­ing co­conuts than from shark at­tacks.

The odds of get­ting at­tacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 3.7 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to thewil­dlife­mu­seum.org.

No Cal Poly fac­ulty mem­ber has called upon him to speak about his ex­pe­ri­ence, and Wap­ner cred­its his teach­ers for being un­der­stand­ing.

“The other stu­dents were really chill about it,” Wap­ner said. “But that whole week af­ter it hap­pened was just a whirl­wind. My phone was blowing up.”

Nick Wil­son: 805-781-7922, @Nick­Wil­sonTrib

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­news.com

Cal Poly stu­dent Nick Wap­ner has re­cov­ered from his shark at­tack on Jan. 8, and he’s surf­ing again.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­news.com

A Jan. 8 shark at­tack left Cal Poly stu­dent Nick Wap­ner with scars on his legs, but no per­ma­nent dam­age.

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