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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 22, 2010

Surfer gets ride of a lifetime, on shark's back


By Paul C. Curtis
Garden Island

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jim Rawlinson, right, was intact after the shark attack; his board wasn't. During the attack, Rawlinson says he wound up on the shark's back and rode it like a horse for 10 seconds.

Save our Seas

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LĪHU'E, Kaua'i Jim Rawlinson, 68, a carpenter from Anahola, was back in the Hanalei Bay waves Tuesday and expecting to rip again later in the week, even after a shark took a bite out of his board there Monday afternoon.

In fact, he continued to surf for at least an hour after the attack, which had him ending up on the back of the shark that bit his board, he said Tuesday morning.

When the shark hit his board, the board went up in the air, Rawlinson went into the water and ended up smack on the back of the tiger shark, riding the shark like a cowboy rides a horse for around 10 seconds, he said.

And while others in his situation might have considered those the longest 10 seconds of their lives, he was relatively unshaken by the occurrence, he said.

While on the shark's back, he decided it would probably be a good idea to detach himself from the board, which was still in the shark's mouth, he said.

"It was relatively calm at that point," he said.

So he casually took off his board leash from around his ankle and put some distance between himself and the shark, estimated to be around 14 feet long.

Rawlinson swam to a reef area nearer to shore, recalling that deep-water sharks don't routinely patrol shallower waters, he said.

He turned around, saw his board floating in the water, swam to retrieve it and never saw the shark again, he said.

Rather than counting his blessings and making a beeline to shore, he stayed out in the water for around another hour, buoyed by other surfers around him, he said.

"It was quite an experience," but nothing that should have interrupted what was otherwise a relaxing, late-afternoon surf session, he said.

After experiencing feelings he described as being in "survival mode," "deja vu" and time seeming to move in slow motion, he felt the brotherhood of fellow surfers and people in boats who came by to take pictures of his board, he said.

"Everybody was totally cool about it. I was in this mode," he said.

Rawlinson has been surfing Hanalei Bay for around 15 years, and in his 50 years of surfing nothing like the attack had ever happened to him before, he said.

When he finally made it to shore, he was met with even more aloha, he said.

"Everybody on the beach was so supportive and sweet," said Rawlinson, adding that he also appreciated the support of fellow surfer Leslie McTaggert.

Asked if he was going to go surfing at Hanalei Bay again, he quickly replied, "Oh, yeah. I'm going to jump back on the horse that bucked me," meaning his board, not the shark.

"I don't want fear to hold me back from doing what I'm doing," said Rawlinson, adding that he will continue surfing "as long as I live and can."

"It's a passion," he said.