Teen surfer bitten by shark off Puna


A 16-year-old Puna surfer is recovering after being attacked by a shark near Pohoiki Boat Ramp on Sunday afternoon.

Jimmy Ulualoha “Ulu Boy” Napeahi, a member of the Puna Surf Team, sustained “multiple lacerations and puncture wounds to his lower extremities,” according to a press release issued by the Hawaii County Fire Department. When the ambulance arrived at the scene, about 19 minutes after the call went out, EMS workers found the victim being treated by lifeguards.

The release stated that the young man reported being hit from behind by a “gray colored shark, about 8 feet long.”

An ambulance crew treated Napeahi at the scene and then transported him to Pahoa Fire Station, where he was transferred to a helicopter ambulance for transport to Hilo Medical Center’s Emergency Room.

A second rescue helicopter surveyed the water from the air in the area of the attack, but did not report any sign of a shark. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources closed access to the water along the Pohoiki coastline for the rest of the day.

Napeahi had been floating on his board near friends at about 1:30 p.m. when there was a sudden rush of water and he was pulled under, said fellow surfer David Hanuanio, 51. Upon returning to the surface, Napeahi shouted that he’d been hit by a shark.

“I seen one splash, and then Ulu Boy said ‘Shark,’” Hanuanio said. “It had let go of him. … I was kind of far away. There were about 10 of us in the water at the time. We helped him out, we grabbed him and brought him in.”

Hanuanio said he didn’t get a very good look at Napeahi’s injuries, but said it was apparent he’d been bitten on both legs.

“We got him up on the rocks and was wrapping the legs,” he said. “I didn’t get to see, because there was a lot of people around.”

A woman who said she was Napeahi’s mother answered her cell phone at about 3:15 p.m., but couldn’t say much other than to confirm that her son was the victim of the shark attack.

“He’s going into surgery in about five minutes,” she said. “We have to go. Can you call back?”

No one answered the phone later in the day. A spokeswoman for Hilo Medical Center said Sunday evening that she could not release any information about the boy’s condition per family request. Earlier Sunday, Napeahi had been telling his group of friends that he was excited about an impending trip to compete in a North Shore surfing competition on Oahu after taking fourth place at last weekend’s 29th Annual Big Island Pro-Am.

“He was going to be in the Junior Classic. He was supposed to go to Oahu (Sunday night),” Hanuanio said.

Pohoiki resident Ida Smith said that there was plenty of commotion following the attack Sunday, with police and fire vehicles littering the parking lot while onlookers stood along the water and talked. Surprisingly, she said, some surfers chose to get back in the water.

“The DLNR is out here right now, trying to get people out of the water. … That takes a lot of guts (to get back in),” she said.

Hanuanio said that he wouldn’t be one of the people going back in. At least, not right away.

“We’ll wait a few days. You gotta wait for the shark to pass through,” he said.

Smith added that she hoped that something positive might result from the incident: “They need a lifeguard out here,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. If it’s good enough for surfers, it should be good enough for swimmers. It’s something I’ve been trying to get out here for a long time.”

The attack on Napeahi came during a streak of shark-related incidents in the state. On Wednesday, a 20-year-old German tourist lost an arm in an attack while she was snorkeling at White Rock beach in Maui. Meanwhile, Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area in West Hawaii was closed Sunday following another shark sighting.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.