KIHEI - Kihei resident Scott Henrich was sitting up on his surfboard at about 6 a.m. Monday, waiting to catch a wave at Kalama Bowls, about 300 yards off Kalama Park, when a shark popped its head out of the water and bit him on his right thigh.
"It happened really quick," the 54-year-old Henrich, a Realtor and golf teaching professional, said Monday evening while he was recovering at home. "It clamped down on my thigh . . . I just pounded its nose and tried to get out of there."
The shark also bit part of Henrich's surfboard.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Education specialist Russell Sparks of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Aquatic Resources Division puts up signs at Cove Park to warn beachgoers of a shark attack earlier Monday morning.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
An official patrols the waters off Kalama Park on Monday morning
After he punched it, the shark thrashed its tail once, let go of Henrich's leg and sank back down into the water.
"All I saw was the head," he said, estimating it was 1 1/2 to 2 feet wide.
Henrich said he didn't know or care what kind of shark had bitten him. All he wanted to do was get back to shore and get some help, particularly as the bite appeared close to major arteries in his leg.
SHARK ATTACKS IN MAUI COUNTY WATERS IN RECENT YEARS
* March 16, 2009. A cookie-cutter shark bit Kula resident Mike
Spalding, 61, as he attempted to swim the nearly 30-mile Alenuihaha Channel from the Big Island to Maui. Swimming at night in clear water more than 2,000 feet deep, Spalding was bitten in his lower chest and left calf. He was about 10 miles northwest of Upolu Point on the Big Island.
* July 26, 2008. A man swimming in turbid, 3-foot-deep water off Honokowai was bitten on his left calf by a small blacktip reef shark seen by spearfishers in the immediate area. The man identified by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as U. Mataafa was able to drive himself to Maui Memorial Medical Center's emergency room for treatment.
* Oct. 29, 2007. Aaron Finley, a 32-year-old sound engineer from West Hollywood, Calif., sustained a bite to his lower left leg and a puncture wound above his left knee from an unidentified shark about 3:30 p.m. as he was swimming 30 yards off the Four Seasons Resort in Wailea.
* May 7, 2007. Peller Marion, 63, a part-time Maui resident and consulting psychologist/author from San Francisco, suffered lacerations on her right foot and calf after being bitten by a large shark off Keawakapu Beach. She was snorkeling about 25 yards off the beach in 10- to 14-feet-deep water when the shark snapped at her foot, pulling off her swim fin, at about 8:30 a.m. A boardsailor reported that his board was bumped by a large tiger shark at about 7:30 a.m. off Kamaole Beach Park II.
Nearby, Haiku resident Larry Sarner, who was riding what Henrich described as a surf kayak, came to his assistance and started to tow him to shore.
Sarner said Henrich "wasn't quite panicked but very agitated and noisy."
Henrich said it was slow going, and he was able to catch a wave and ride it to shore on his belly with his injured leg raised in the air.
Henrich said he was able to "very painfully" walk across South Kihei Road to Foodland, where he had parked his car. The gate to Kalama Park was closed when he arrived to surf, he said.
People heard Henrich's and Sarner's calls for help, and at least four people called 911, according to Sarner. He said that "within five minutes, there were six police cars, and within six minutes a firetruck was there." A firefighter even came running with a medical kit from the station nearby.
In the meantime, Sarner and Henrich had "commandeered two T-shirts off the backs of some standers-by," Sarner said, and Henrich used them to compress his wounds.
Within eight minutes, Sarner estimated, Henrich was in an ambulance and heading for the hospital.
Henrich said that he lost "quite a bit of blood," but he wasn't sure how much. Doctors used about 100 stitches to close various wounds, the worst being a gash above his right knee and a deep puncture wound on the side of his shin.
Henrich said he always has had respect for the ocean and its creatures. He routinely says a little prayer while he stretches before heading into the ocean.
"It just didn't work today," he said. "It was just my time."
When asked how he was feeling Monday night, he replied, "I'm doing OK . . . I have a leg."
After the shark attack, a two-mile stretch of beach in Kihei was closed and will remain so at least until this morning, according to a county news release.
Sarner said he got a good look at the shark immediately after Henrich was attacked. It was so close he took a jab at it with his paddle but didn't make contact.
"There were no stripes; it was a plump shark," he said.
Sarner, who has a master's degree in marine ecology and oceanography from the University of Hawaii and worked for 10 years at the Maui Ocean Center, believes it was a sandbar shark - though state officials believe it could be a tiger shark based on bite marks.
"I always told the tourists that if a shark attack happens, it will be a tiger shark," he said. But he said he is certain it was not a tiger shark, the culprit in most of Hawaii's shark attacks. "I'm about 85 percent sure it was a sandbar shark," perhaps 6 to 8 feet long.
Because there were no distinguishing colors like black or white fin tips, Sarner concluded it was a sandbar shark, but he said a Galapagos shark or a scalloped hammerhead shark would also fit the description of a plump, medium gray shark. As a marine biologist, he recognizes that an attack by a sandbar shark would be unusual.
According to a Maui County news release Monday afternoon, state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials concluded the bite marks "are consistent with those that would be made by a large tiger shark."
Russell Sparks, education specialist for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, said it hadn't been determined what kind of shark bit the surfer.
"We don't know what it is," Sparks said. "There's no clear evidence either way."
He said he hadn't heard of instances in which a sandbar shark, which tends to stay in deeper water, was proven to have bitten anyone.
After Henrich was in an ambulance, Sarner said he went back into the water and paddled toward Cove Park, quietly warning some 10 to 12 surfers that there was trouble. Soon after, state Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officers closed the beach, and people left the water.
Henrich works as a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Island Properties in Kihei. He's also a Professional Golf Association teacher at the Elleair Golf Course in Kihei.
He said the shark attack won't keep him out of the water. Aside from surfing, he also swims in the ocean as a triathlon competitor.
Sparks noted that shark attacks in Hawaii waters aren't a significant risk, occurring three to five times a year.
"You're certainly a lot more likely to be hurt driving to the beach," he said.
People can take precautions, including staying near other people in the water and not moving too far from assistance. It's also recommended that people stay out of the water at dawn, at dusk and at night, when some species of sharks may move toward shore to feed, and avoid murky waters, harbor entrances and areas near stream mouths.
When a shark is seen, it's advised that people leave the water quickly and calmly while not provoking or harassing the shark, even a small one.
Sarner said that when sharks bite humans, "they generally find out that it wasn't what they thought and give up and swim away."
That seems to have been the case Monday. Sarner said the whole encounter took three seconds. "Chomp, chomp, chomp," he said.
After the attack, reported at 6:13 a.m. Monday, beaches were closed for 24 hours one mile south and one mile north of Kalama Park from the south end of Kamaole Beach Park I to Waiohuli Road. Officials were to meet this morning to decide whether to reopen the beaches.
Archie Kalepa, Maui County ocean safety supervisor, said lifeguards on personal watercraft were patrolling the area Monday, after clearing beaches shortly after the attack was reported.
He said 30 to 40 surfers were in the water, taking advantage of the 2- to 4-foot south swell.
Lifeguards didn't see any unusual activity after the attack.
"The water is fairly murky because of the surf," Kalepa said late Monday morning.