Shark bite doesn’t keep surfer out of the water

By Kristin Michelle Kownacky |

When St. Augustine Resident Andrew Birchall went for a surf around noon, he never expected he could be lunch.

Birchall was bitten by a shark while surfing at St. Augustine Beach on September 6, 2012. When he jumped off his surfboard into the water, a shark grabbed his foot, leaving teeth marks in his heel and severing the tendons in his toes.

Two weeks later, now recovering from surgery, Birchall says the bite will not keep him out of the water. Yet in 30 years of surfing, the threat of sharks never did.

“You’re always aware and conscious of it. It’s the ones [sharks] you don’t see that cause the problems,” he said.

And by problems, he means shark bites.

“It’s a risk you take, but you never think it’ll happen to you. I’d like to believe that if you get bit once, that’s it,” he said.

According to The Florida Museum of Natural History’s statistics, the odds are with Birchall. There is a one in 11 million chance of being bitten by a shark. However, of the 420 shark attacks in the United States over the last 10 years, 244, or more than half, have occurred in Florida. So the odds are slightly higher for Florida surfers and swimmers.

Yet whatever the odds, when anyone goes into the water, they should be conscious of the dangers. Jeremy Robshaw, spokesperson for St. Johns Fire and Rescue, says there is no way to know when an attack will happen because sharks are there everyday. The ocean is a shark’s home.

However, there are precautions to take, such as to avoid swimming early in the morning as well as late at night. Be aware of turbulent waters, that is where sharks tend to feed. Robshaw says the Fire and Rescue’s job is more or less to educate others to just be aware.

“Minor incidents won’t keep people out of the water,” he said.

Flagler College student Matt Pagels surfs in his free time. While out in the water he sees shark’s fins, tails and all.

“Being from Jersey, I’m not use to it. When I see a fin, I’m honestly the first one out,” he said.

Yet sometimes not even the sight of a shark is enough to get people, including Matt, off their surfboards.

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