CANNON BEACH, Ore. – Joe Tanner has a story that few people can tell.
The 29-year-old from Portland was surfing north of Cannon Beach in Oregon when he was bitten by a shark, believed to be a Great White.
“I was off my board just resting on it like you would, like a high counter, and then all of a sudden something grabbed me from below,” Tanner told reporters Wednesday. “My whole leg was in its mouth.”
The shark then pulled him underwater and his mind started racing.
“I’m like, no way, this is not happening,”he recalled. “And then I thought I was going to die.”
Tanner’s survival instincts kicked in, though, and he remembered to fight. He punched the shark in its gills until it let him go.
Then, he had to swim back to shore.
“That was the scariest part, just feeling like you’re being chased, leaving a trail – a trail of breadcrumbs,” he said.
Tanner later learned the shark’s mouth was 26 inches wide, and the bite in his leg was six inches deep.
“I did see him get pulled under,” West Woodworth, who was surfing with Tanner, said. “When we were getting back on his board I saw a fin do a really quick turn but then just go down.”
As people on the shoreline rushed to help, Tanner stayed calm and directed bystanders in what to do. He told them his blood type, how to tie a tourniquet, made sure someone was calling 911 and gave Woodworth his parent’s number in Idaho.
“It’s not exactly the phone call you expect,” Tanner’s mother Roye Ely said.
His father, Steve Tanner, thought at first it was a prank call before the seriousness of what happened began to sink in.
Bystanders got Tanner back onto his board and carried him up to the parking lot. He was driven to Cannon Beach, where medics flew him to Portland.
He told them there was only one place he wanted to go, Legacy Emanuel, where he works as a critical care nurse.
“I remember getting to the trauma bay and two of my coworkers were on either side of me,” Tanner said. “It was a huge relief.”
He spent nine days in the hospital and has undergone three surgeries, but his prognosis is good.
“We’re so incredibly grateful,” Ely added. “He’s alive, he’s got a leg, his leg’s going to work again, and the outpouring from friends and family – it’s been unbelievable.”
Tanner is sharing his story in hopes of preventing future attacks. He wants to remind other surfers to punch a shark’s eye or scratch its gills, know your own blood type, keep a tourniquet kit with you and be aware of when the shark’s population is at its peak.
Sharks feed on sea lions which feed on salmon, so in Oregon, the riskiest time to be in the water is at dawn and dusk between August and October.
Despite stitches from his thigh to his ankle, Tanner said he’ll be back in the water someday – although he may not go alone.
“I’ve thought a lot about it,” he said. “Surfing’s a meditation for me, so I’ll be back in, for sure.”
By Kelsey Watts, KPTV