HONOLULU – Hawaii surfer Mike Morita woke up early and planned to get a few waves in before going to Easter service with his wife.
Morita, 58, headed to his regular spot locals call Kewalos, known for reliable waves over shallow reef near the mouth of a harbor not far from downtown Honolulu on the island of Oahu's south shore.
“The water was crystal clear,” he said, noting how it was already bright at 6:15 a.m.
He was lying on his stomach on his board after riding a few waves when he felt a bite on his right leg.
“The sheer strength of it, I knew right away it was a shark,” he said Wednesday from his hospital bed. “In that critical moment, I went to God.”
He prayed for the shark to free his leg as the pressure intensified and the creature thrashed about.
“I kind of surprised myself that I went straight into prayer,” he recalled.
But he didn't pray to stay alive: “The whole time, I never thought I was gonna die.”
“God wanted me to fight, so I started beefing,” he said, using a Hawaii Pidgin term for fighting. He repeatedly punched and swore at the shark.
His shouts and swearing got the attention of his fellow Kewalos regulars, who paddled straight toward him without hesitation.
“The water was red — with my blood,” he said. “I cannot believe how much courage my friends had.”
The friends later told Morita the shark dragged him underwater. Morita remembers slipping an arm around the shark, sort of like a hug. He reached for its gills.
“As I went by the gills, it let go," he said.
State officials said it was reported to be an 8-foot (2.4-meter) tiger shark.
Morita's surf buddies used their board leashes to make a tourniquet and helped him onto a longboard that carried him back to shore. At one point, he looked back and saw only bone from ankle to knee on his right leg. Paramedics later told him without the tourniquet, he would have bled to death, Morita said.
Doctors amputated Morita's right foot, and he was scheduled to undergo another surgery Thursday.
“My prayer now is they won't have to amputate above the knee,” he said.
Morita, who started surfing in the fourth grade, believes he'll surf again. “I'm not good at it, but I love it,” he said.
It's a hobby he enjoyed on days off from his job as a United Airlines ramp service worker.
Morita said his faith in God, which has grown in recent years, has kept him from getting depressed.
“I would be mad at God, mad at the world, mad at the shark," he said. “I can honestly say I am at peace. I have no fear of the ocean right now.”
He joked that he should have gone to New Hope Oahu's 7 a.m. Sunday church service instead of planning to go to the one at 9:15 a.m.
“Unfortunately I never made it to the service,” he said.