At just 15 years of age, Shannon Ainslie was mauled by two 15 ft (4.5 meter) great white sharks while surfing Nahoon Reef in East London, South Africa. Ainslie’s incredible story spread like wild fire after hearing that not only did the young Great White shark attack victim survive the brutal assault, but he then jumped right back in the water six weeks later.
*Editors note: The following story contains graphic content that may be unsuitable for children.
The Surf Channel: Can you describe to us what happened the day of your attack?
Shannon Ainslie: I was 15-years-old at the time and I was surfing this place called Nahoon Reef in East London, South Africa. About an hour into my surf, I was paddling for a wave when two sharks attacked me. Two 15 ft (4.5 meter) great white sharks… one came from the left, one came from the right. The one on the left bumped me from underneath into the air and bit my surfboard and hand, and dragged me under the water with it. While that was happening, the shark on the right went for my head and shoulders, but it missed me, because the shark on the left got there first. The great white pulled me underwater with it, eventually letting go of me. It just stopped and stared at me for a few moments.
This all happened so quickly that I had no clue what was going on. I remember just staring the shark face to face underwater with its mouth wide open. I could see its one eye just staring into my face… It was super close. I could’ve reached to touch it or stick my hand in its mouth. Then, it swam past me, slowly turned around and then shoved me forward deeper under the water from behind.
All of a sudden, the shark just disappeared. I swam to the surface and still, at this phase, never really knew what was going on; I was rather confused. I saw my surfboard floating in front in-between me and the beach. I also saw all the other surfers paddling towards shore rushing to get out of the water.
I swam towards my surfboard, hoped on, and as I pulled my right hand over to start paddling, I saw that my fingers were hanging off. Blood was just squirting out. I realized what I thought was a dream (or a nightmare) was actually real and I was completely overcome with shock. I started shaking and freaking out, super scared, because I was left to die 100 yards out to sea with no one to help me.
The ocean went dead flat. I was really scared that the sharks were going to come back to kill me. I was panicking and had no idea what to do, so I decided to pray. I prayed and said, ‘Jesus, please, can you come and help me and get me out of the water safely.’ As soon as I prayed, all of my fear released and this wave came out of nowhere. I was able to catch it to the beach and safely exit the ocean.
When I finally got back to shore, tons of people met me to help me over the rocks and put me in my brother’s car. He rushed me to a hospital where I had my fingers sewn back on.
Was this rare double attack captured on video?
Ainslie: The entire attack was caught on camera by a Canadian tourist. It’s the only double shark attack ever recorded or caught on camera. He directly sold that clip to Reuters for quite a load of money, and then they sold that clip to various other people with documentaries. I think it’s pretty unique and incredible, especially to see myself get attacked by two sharks and miraculously survive it.
Tell us about the first time you got back in the water after the shark attack?
Ainslie: The first time I got back into the water was about six weeks after my shark attack. I surfed a spot about 45 minutes northeast of where I had previously been attacked, far from Nahoon Reef so I felt a bit safer and more comfortable. I managed to surf for thirty minutes, pretty scared and nervous.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not actually filmed the very first surf I had after my shark attack, and my brother was there with some of his friends. My best friend also surfed with me, so it was quite a cool day.
Are you often haunted by that memory?
Ainslie: [Laughs] Never ever. That’s quite a good question, because back before my shark attack, I was super scared of sharks and afraid of surfing with less than five people in the water with me. Since the attack, I’ve definitely grown in faith and know that I don’t really have to be scared nor fear sharks anymore.
I’ve actually had two additional shark encounters since my shark attack, so both of those experiences combined with feeling an incredible peace within me all the time… is just indescribable. Now, I never get scared.
How has your life changed since the shark attack?
Ainslie: Well, I could have died that day, so I became super thankful and grateful to have a second chance at life. As a young kid, I grew up in poverty and I was forced to go to church, which I didn’t really like going to. I was told that there was a God up there who loved me and cared about me, but I never really believed it or experienced that he was real, so I kind of just wrote the whole thing off… until the day of my shark attack.
During the attack, I called out to Jesus. He rescued me and saved me, and I had the most incredible encounter ever. It changed my life big time. I decided to get to know God, who saved me. And he not only saved me from sharks, but saved me from many other things like weaknesses and struggles, helping me at so many stages in my life.
It’s given me a lot of peace, joy and hope. So, yes, my life has changed a lot. I still surf and also coach surfing, and I enjoy connecting with surfers and people, to share the love of God with them.
For more information on sharks, check out The Science of Sharks, Part One: 4 Ways to Help Avoid a Shark Attack.