Man in shark attack now sees ordeal as 'positive experience'

October 09, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Tabloid television reporters know where he lives. Anonymous female admirers phone at all hours. Scars that look like licorice whips crisscross his body. Friends have mailed him San Jose Sharks underwear.

Life's a little different these days for Eric Larsen, the soft-spoken San Jose computer programmer who became an instant celebrity three months ago after surviving a great white shark attack while surfing near Santa Cruz.

"I've got a great story to tell at cocktail parties now," Larsen said this week. "My biggest fear is that all these scars will heal up and no one will believe it."

A former Montana ski patrolman-turned Silicon Valley fitness buff, Larsen, 33, gained international attention July 1 when he fought off a shark that pulled him from a surfboard into the murky waters off Davenport Landing.

Although he lost half the blood in his body and suffered cuts that required 400 stitches, Larsen managed to paddle 150 yards to shore and guide nearby residents in the first-aid techniques that saved his life.

The aftermath: seven days in Dominican Hospital; six weeks of physical therapy; $30,000 in medical receipts sent to the insurance company. Apart from a dull ache when he straightens out his left leg, though, Larsen said, nothing hurts much anymore, and he is 75 percent back to strength.

Doctors attribute the quick recovery to his age and tiptop physical condition. His thumb's still stiff, and he walks with a slight limp, but otherwise, the former triathlete has resumed a strenuous workout regimen that includes bicycling, swimming and ocean rowing. And yes, he has gone surfing again.

It was 2 1/2 weeks ago. A Friday morning, before the sun came up. Larsen left San Jose without telling friends or the television crews who had wanted to capture the moment.

"I didn't want them out there," he said. "It's kind of a secret, but I'm not a very good surfer."

He returned to Davenport Landing and stood alone, staring into the sea. "I had been mentally rehearsing it every day for three months," he said. "It was pitch black, and there was nobody in the water. I thought about it, then decided it wouldn't be a good idea to go in alone."

He threw his board in the car and drove a few miles down the Santa Cruz County coast, to 4-Mile Beach.

"When I first hit the water, I brushed up against some kelp, and it was dark," he recalled. "There was some anxiety."

Larsen's biggest challenge these days is finding another job; he was laid off a month ago.

Larsen said he had enjoyed all the attention.

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