24 June 2005

Maui swimmer punches tiger shark and gets away with it

Brad Grissom locked eyes with a 7-foot tiger shark just before he punched it in the snout in waters off Kamaole Beach Park I on Saturday morning.

"I didn't really hit him that hard," the 49-year-old Kula contractor and triathlete recalled of his 10-second shark encounter.

Grissom managed to get out of the ocean, and with the help of people on the beach, called in the 10 or so other swimmers in the area. A few minutes later, Maui County ocean safety officers, who had just reported for duty shortly before 8 a.m., closed Kamaole I and all the beaches within a mile in each direction. The beaches, including Kamaole II, Kamaole III, Cove Park and Charley Young, were all reopened at 12:30 p.m.

"I can't believe how lucky I was. It doesn't seem real. It seems like it's a movie but every time I talk about it, it becomes more real," said Grissom.

He had been ill for about two weeks, staying away from Kamaole I, his favorite swimming spot on the island. But on Saturday morning as he was on his way to a job site in Wailea, he decided to stop for a swim.

Grissom said he ventured about 35 yards offshore in an area between the Royal Mauian Resort and Kamaole I. He had been swimming for no more than 15 minutes when he spotted something moving in the water.

"I thought it was a big barracuda," Grissom said. A frequent swimmer at Kamaole I, Grissom said he had seen other kinds of predator fish and small barracudas in the area before – but he had never encountered a shark.

With a second look, he found himself and the shark looking at each other eye to eye. Immediately, the shark swam toward Grissom, who hadn't even given a thought to what he should do. He struck out with his right fist and hit the approaching shark.

Grissom said the shark appeared startled.

"The whole thing happened so fast. . . . I think he was surprised that I responded the way I did," he said.

Grissom said after he punched the shark, he immediately swam to shore. He did not see which direction the shark went.

The water had been "a little murky" Grissom said, but otherwise calm, as on many other swim days.

While sharks are not commonly seen in the waters off the Kamaole beach parks, they are known to occasionally come in close to shore. Swimmers in 1973 and 1974 reported being bitten by small sharks off Kalama Park and Kamaole I.

Grissom said he believed that his attentiveness in the water helped him.

"I’m aware when I'm in the water. I look around me, and I stay aware of what's there," he said.

Grissom said swimmers may feel secure when they see people nearby in the water, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're safe.

"That's what could have happened to me. You get a false security and then you don't stay aware," he said.

Grissom wondered out loud what could have happened had he not keyed in on the shark first.

"He could have bit me," he said.

Grissom said it appeared to be a tiger shark that was at least 7 feet long, maybe 8 feet, and perhaps 2 feet wide. Its color was gray with distinct stripes.

"Its underbelly was so white. I remember that white belly," he said.

Grissom reported the incident to lifeguards on the beach, who immediately followed up by posting shark-warning signs along the beaches, with help from state conservation enforcement officers.

After speaking to the ocean safety officers, Grissom decided it was safer at work and headed off to the job site in Wailea.

"I feel fine," he said.

Ocean Safety Capt. Jeff Meadows said beachgoers were cooperative, but he did have to get the help from the state enforcement officers who spoke to a group of fishermen who had a net in the water and hesitated to take it out.

Gill nets that have fish trapped in the netting can be an attraction to predators such as sharks.

Meadows said standard operating procedure is to close the beaches once a shark sighting is reported.

"You know what, it's better to be safe than sorry," he said.

Meadows and his staff walked the beaches and combed the waters in personal watercraft to look for signs of the shark. They also monitored the shores to make sure no one went swimming while the beaches were closed.

Once they determined that the waters were clear of any shark attractions or a shark itself, the ocean safety officers reopened the beaches.

Seattle visitor Ron Johnson, who arrived at Kamaole I with body boards and his son, Zack, said he didn't mind the beach closure.

"Hey, I'm on vacation. It doesn't matter. As long as I don't have to go to work," he said.

Instead of going in the water, the Johnsons relaxed on the sand near one of the freshly posted "shark sighting" signs.

Source: www.mauinews.com


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