Caleb’s Journey: A True Survivor

It was the 27th of June 2015. I was with my family at Buffalo Bay, enjoying time at the beach.  At about midday my two brothers and I put our wetsuits and fins on and headed out at Murphy’s point to catch a few big ones. It was awesome! The weather was perfect and there had been surfers in the water just before we had gone in. People always think that I was a surfer prior to my shark attack, but in actual fact I was never a surfer before this happened.

After a few good waves I saw it coming over the crest of a wave… a great white shark directly in front of me. I shouted to my brothers and we started swimming hard towards the beach. I had a feeling in the back of my mind though that something bad was going to happen. My mind was racing as the adrenaline kicked in.

I felt the shark slam into me and it pulled me under the water shaking me around. My brother who was sharing a pair of fins with me realized I wasn’t swimming next to him. He swam back and started pulling me towards the beach by my wetsuit. The shark swam back to us at this point, circled us and bit into my brothers fin when he tried to scare it off.

It is a miracle that I am alive today. My brothers pulled me out of the water. I had lost my right leg, my femoral artery went into spasm and prevented a major bleed out on the beach.

From my journey on the beach to now I have been blessed with so much support. My family encouraged me to continue with my studies which I have done, as well as take up swimming as part of my rehab. Recently I started trying to stand on a surf board with my prosthetic leg and have found a new interest in adaptive surfing. The feeling of paddling out and catching a wave, whether that’s standing kneeling or lying down is unlike any other!

This experience also opened doors to the world of adaptive sport. I have already begun competing in swimming at a provincial and national level. Last year I was invited to join the SA adaptive surfing team to compete in California. It was an amazing experience being a part of the second adaptive world championships. Our team placed sixth overall and we came back with a gold (Anthony Smyth) and a bronze medal (JP Veaudry). More importantly it is a great privilege to be able to challenge myself and set myself personal goals, whether that is simply to get a PB in the pool or try and catch a longer ride at Muizenberg. (I’m still a beginner, so muizenberg is my spot for the time being;)

None of this would be possible or as rewarding without my family and close friends. They motivate me to follow my passions and push myself everyday. So thank you to all of them and looking forward to many more days together!

Throughout this journey I am reminded daily of the affirmation my mom taught us when we were at school: “IADOY: meaning – it all depends on you”. No matter how much help and support you have in life, it’s ultimately up to you to ‘Make It Happen’.

Words by Caleb Swanepoel

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Caleb Swanepoel

Caleb with his younger brother Alex, who pulled him out of the water when he was attacked.

Brothers Alex & Caleb Swanepoel