LOMITA (CBSLA.com) — A 50-year-old swimmer attacked by a great white shark Saturday is opening up about what exactly happened off the Manhattan Beach pier.
In an interview Sunday with KCAL9, Steven Robles sat in the front yard of his Lomita home, with a cast on his arm and his shirt splayed opened to reveal the bloodied lines where shark teeth ripped into his torso.
“I’m still pretty shaken up. I’m still rattled, my nerves are still shaky,” Robles told reporter Joy Benedict, adding that he feels residual soreness and tightness in his chest and has no sensation in his right thumb. He says the shark nicked an artery in his right hand.
Robles was bitten by a 7-foot-long great white just before 9:30 a.m. while doing a long-distance swim. The juvenile shark was apparently caught on a fishing line for some time and became agitated.
“The shark came right up to me, bit right into my torso area. He penetrated the first layer of my skin and into my fat tissue,” he said. “And somehow I had enough sense to grab his nose with my right hand and pry him off my body.”
The swimmers said “the whole attack happened really fast. I saw him swimming from underneath and he surfaced really quick, made a very sharp left and then lunged right at me. I was starting at the shark face-to-face, looking at his eyeballs as he bit right into me.”
“For a second, I thought this might be it,” Robles said. “I was absolutely terrified. I never thought I would die in the ocean.”
Robles, a realtor with Keller Williams in the South Bay, says he’s a trained long-distance swimmer. Last year, he swam 20 miles from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes. At the time of the attack, Robles was with a group of 14 swimmers, who swim every Saturday morning from Hermosa Beach Pier to Manhattan Beach Pier, preparing for an upcoming International Swim Meet.
“I’m very experienced out in the ocean. I’ve swam my whole life. Because…I’m a strong swimmer, I was able to sustain myself in the water while this injury was going on,” Robles said.
There were three or four swimmers a few paces behind Robles and quickly came to his aid when the attack happened.
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs. My first instinct was to grab my friend…he held me and was taking it in what was going on,” Robles said.
A paddler helped get Robles on his longboard and took him to shore.
Robles believes he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
As he was swimming by the pier, Robles intersected the tail-end of a 40-minute struggle between the shark and a fisherman’s line. The shark had just gotten loose from the line and was thrashing in the water when he bit the swimmer.
Officials said it was unusual for a great white shark to have been swimming so close to shore.
There were reports that the shark was lured by chum, which is bloody fish parts, on a fisherman’s line.
The fisherman who caught the shark claimed he was not chumming, and that he was using only a small sardine as bait with the intention of hooking a Bat Ray. It was unclear if other fishermen were using chum.
“For what we fish for, there’s no need to chum,” the fisherman said. “The fish are already there, they’re not attracted to blood. The fisher that we’re fishing for have nothing to do with it.”
When Benedict asked Robles about it, he said, “It was a horrible decision that this fisherman made, thinking he was going to go catch a shark and drew all that attention. He had that shark on his fishing pole for 40 minutes, from what I hear, and by the time he cut that line loose I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The shark was agitated and I was the first thing it saw.”
Police state that the fisherman had done nothing illegal, but that all fishing from the Manhattan Beach pier is suspended until July 8.
KCAL9 obtained video taken by fishermen on the pier who can be heard off-camera laughing during the attack. It’s not known whether one of them was the fisherman who snagged the shark. Based on their comments, they don’t seem to fully grasp whether Robles had been scared by the shark or whether he’d actually been bitten.
The Robles family has seen the video. They say they’re disturbed that people would laugh and joke about his near-death experience.
“What the hell was he thinking? I was almost ready to die right there,” Robles said. “And I don’t think they understood what was really going on. I hope they didn’t understand, because if they did, oh my God, it wasn’t even close to funny. This was me about to lose my life.”
“I’m very lucky to be here. I’m very thankful God was on my side, protecting me. I truly believe God was my savior today,” he said.
Robles is at home recovering.
He said he’s grateful to everyone who helped him yesterday and would like to meet the people who pulled him to shore.
One man, Justin Hoop, told CBS2 and KCAL9, why he jumped into the water to save a complete stranger.