Shark! How One Surfer Survived an Attack

When a two-ton predator caught surfer Todd Endris in its jaws, an unlikely group of swimmers came to his rescue.

By Cathy Free from Reader's Digest | July 2008

“His muscles were completely severed,” says Dr. Allo. “It was hard to tell what belonged to what. It was tedious work, like doing a jigsaw puzzle.”

During his six days in the hospital, Endris, often in a painkiller-induced fog, thought about the ocean. When he was 12, his parents –Michael, owner of a company that distributes microprocessors, and Kathi, a labor and delivery nurse — had signed him up for lessons at Davey Smith’s Surf Academy in Santa Barbara. By age 16, he was an expert, teaching surf camp kids what he knew.

After high school, Endris, wanting to be close to the water, enrolled at California State University, Monterey Bay. He launched a business taking care of large saltwater aquariums owned by wealthy clients after he graduated. He enjoyed keeping his own hours — leaving time for daily surf runs and for hanging out with friends on weekends.

Endris lived for the adrenaline rush that came with outracing a roaring wave, the cold salty spray stinging his face as he barreled underneath the curving white water. “You’re in perfect sync with an actual moving force of nature,” he says. “There’s no other feeling that even comes close.”

Endris replayed the attack in his mind as he recuperated; he wondered if he’d ever surf again. After his release from the hospital, he retreated to his parents’ San Jose home so his mother, who retired from nursing in 2001, could care for him. “As a nurse, I’ve seen a lot,” she says, “but never anything close to this.” She changed his bedding, helped clean his wounds, and managed his medication. “But mostly I was there for emotional support,” she says. “I just loved him.”

Once Endris was back in his Marina apartment, he began having a recurring nightmare: the great white shark plowing through the water, about to knock him off his board. At the moment of impact, he would wake in a sweat. “I would have this feeling of dread and panic in my chest, and there’s nobody to talk to,” he says. “Who can relate? It’s not like there are shark attack victims around every corner.”

Endris took to focusing on the positive from that August day. “A lot of things came together to pull me through,” he says. “The guys who rushed to help, the dolphins — they all saved my life.”

He had heard about a common practice in Taiji, Japan, where dolphins are herded into small coves and slaughtered to be sold at fish markets. Hoping to do his part to protect them, he joined several organizations dedicated to their preservation. “I tell my story now to anybody who will listen because I want people to know how truly remarkable dolphins are,” he says. “They’re as smart as humans, and I believe they’re capable of empathy. When I was being attacked that day, maybe they were trying to protect their young or acting on instinct. But they drove the shark away. If they hadn’t, there’s no doubt in my mind it would have come back.”

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