Dylan Peyton was in waist-to-chest-deep water on Thursday, enjoying a day of surfing with a new friend during a family vacation to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Dylan, a rising sophomore at Spotsylvania County’s Riverbend High School, got off his board and ducked underwater to rinse his hair. He felt something against his left leg, but thought at first that it was just his friend, messing around.
But then he opened his eyes. He saw his own blood all around him. And he came face to face with a shark.
The experienced surfer immediately put up a fight against the shark, believed to have been a 5-foot bull shark.
“I was thinking, ‘I have to get my butt out of the water right now, as fast as I can, get this shark off me,’” he said. “What happened was, he chomped down on the leg a couple times. I used my left arm to rip him off. He bit me, then darted off.”
Adrenaline kicked in and then, five to 10 seconds after the first bite, the pain set in.
Dylan’s friend, a fellow surfer he met earlier this week, threw him over his shoulder and rushed him to the beach.
People on shore had noticed what was happening and called for help. They swarmed around Dylan and jumped in to help, wrapping his wounds tightly with towels to stanch the bleeding until paramedics could get there.
His parents were on the beach nearby when all the commotion took place.
Jen Peyton said she had seen her son just before the attack. He has a habit of checking in with her “between runs” when he’s surfing so she knows he’s OK.
“He caught a good wave and gave me a good smile,” she said.
She “was sitting and talking to my girlfriend and four minutes later, these gentlemen walked up to me,” she said. They asked if her son had been out surfing, and told her about the shark attack.
Her husband took off running immediately, and she followed.
“I was just in shock and literally ran as fast as I could down to where he was, about 100 yards away.”
An onlooker assured her that Dylan had all his fingers and toes. Peyton went to check on him herself, then had just enough time to race back to their rented condo to grab shoes and a purse before hopping into the ambulance with Dylan.
She said he was crying because of the pain, but was pleased with how he handled the ordeal.
“He was very proud of the fact that he fought the shark off,” she said.
On his leg, she said, you can see the marks left behind by the shark’s jaw. His left index finger took the brunt of the attack on his hand.
The shark bit down on it and chipped a shard of bone, she said. But the finger is still there.
Dylan assured his mom that the shark wouldn’t keep him from returning to the water to surf.
“He’s probably not going to go back in the water anytime soon,” she said.
But both are grateful.
“He’s very, very lucky. It could have been extremely worse,” she said.
The 15-year-old is rattled but OK, he said Friday during a phone interview. He had an appointment with a specialist on Friday afternoon.
“That’s our main concern, making sure he has mobility and full function,” his mother said. The family is cutting their vacation short to return home, where Dylan will continue his recovery and receive physical therapy, she said.
Dylan said he has spent a lot of time in the ocean but never thought he would have a run-in with a shark.
His family moved to Spotsylvania County about a year and a half ago from California, where he surfed frequently — often among killer whales and sea lions. Those never bothered him.
This was the family’s first group visit to Myrtle Beach. They had heard about shark attacks throughout the summer, Jen Peyton said, but since most have taken place off North Carolina’s coast, they weren’t overly concerned about hitting the water in South Carolina.
There have been at least eight attacks along the North Carolina coast since June 11. At least two resulted in limb amputations. Three attacks occurred within a week along the Outer Banks, a popular vacation spot for Fredericksburg-area residents.
The seven attacks are the most in North Carolina in the 80 years they’ve been tracked. The next-highest number of attacks reported was five in 2010.
Experts say there’s no readily available scientific explanation for the rash of attacks and they can only speculate on what’s causing the incidents.
June was an exceptionally hot month and it attracted more people into the ocean.
Some attacks happened near piers, which is where fishermen were chumming or baiting the water to attract fish. That also attracts sharks, as does high salinity waters close to shore, the result of abnormally dry weather.
One thing is certain: It’s going to be tough to top Dylan’s summer vacation story when classes resume at Riverbend.