By Tori McKelvey
Once under water, though, waiting for the rip curl to pass, a sensation hit me. “Fuck, that hurts,” I thought.
Is the ocean that scary? It can be but the odds of anything happening are slim to none… until it happens to you.
In September of 2019, I was surfing out on Folly Beach enjoying some of the bigger waves we've seen. The weather was steaming hot, the water was cool and not a single cloud in the sky was visible. I was riding my favorite board, a 6-ft fish tail board, solid grey with a rose red rim, when I swallowed saltwater and got thirsty so I began paddling towards shore for fresh water to hydrate. Roughly 50 feet from it, a wave built up behind me.
“Catch it, Tori; ride the wave in,” I thought to myself. I paddled into it and did just that. Afterward, I jumped off my board and into the water as I always do. Once under water, though, waiting for the rip curl to pass, a sensation hit me. “Fuck, that hurts,” I thought.
Did the fin of my board cut my thumb again? I remained calm under the surface but as I emerged I could see that my left thumb was gushing blood; I couldn't see the top half of it. "Is it gone?" I screamed in my head. Panic stricken, I noticed bite marks surrounding the side of my hand. “GET OUT! GET OUT!” was suddenly the loud chorus in my head.
Naturally, I was the center of the attention on the 13th block of Folly Beach for those 10 minutes.
A shark roughly 4-5 feet in length had chomped at my hand, didn’t like how I tasted, and swam away. My friend and surfing buddy, Hannah Weber, was closer to shore than me and I screamed at her, “Something bit me! Something bit me!” Then I ran as quickly as I could dragging my surfboard behind me making it that much harder to move. I ripped the leash off connecting it to my leg as she coaxed me out of the water. Everyone on the beach then rushed towards me offering help. A nice lady enjoying her tan even offered me her bright pink beach wrap to cover my bleeding hand. (Thank you, if you're reading this.)
Honestly, the memories of this happening are blurry because I was in a state of shock. Naturally, I was the center of the attention on the 13th block of Folly Beach for those 10 minutes. What I do remember is my friend, William Bollman, walking me to the car and driving me to MUSC downtown.
All of my friends came together for me that day. As I was waiting in the Emergency Room, my friend and surfing buddy, Sam Chase, brought me my favorite snack, Jalapeno CHEETOS®. He joked that it would “heal my shark bite.” The ER doctors did an amazing job cleaning out my wound and stitching it up — which, not to be graphic, looked difficult, because my thumb was shredded open.
For two to three weeks after the shark bite, my thumb suffered nerve damage. I would poke my thumb a lot as a joke because no sensory nerves had healed yet. The internet says people have a higher chance of being struck by lightning than having a shark take a nibble out of them. All I have to say now is that many things are low risk until it happens to you.
Getting back in the water and paddling back out has definitely been challenging because of the fear factor. I hate to think that fear is going to stop me from doing something I love. Who knows how long it will be before I finally stop thinking about the sharks circling around me while I sit idly on my board waiting for the next wave to pick me up? I just keep telling myself that sharks do not like to eat people. When humans surf, we are invading the sea creatures’ home. We should always proceed with caution.
The positive aspect out of this experience is a story not many people can tell (truthfully), and a bad ass scar to go with it. There are risks in everything we do. If we don’t take them then life is extremely boring. My hope is not to scare anyone but rather help people to understand how unpredictable the ocean is, and to be aware. If I can get back into the water — and, especially, if the famous Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark bite can get back into the water — what’s to stop you?