Caleb Swanepoel could have given up on life after he lost his right leg during a shark attack‚ but instead he turned the traumatic experience into a career and he is now a South African disabled surfing champion.
And now the 21 year old drama student is headed to the world adaptive surfing championships.
He lost his leg in June last year.
“We were doing some body surfing and I saw a shark… the next thing I knew it was here‚ which is the right side of my body. I remember the shark pulling out of the water and ripping my right leg off.
“I felt something disconnect. I did not feel pain because my adrenaline was just so high. I thought this was not happening to me. This is not real”
Three weeks after his shark attack‚ Swanepoel decided to go back to the water.
“I am glad I went back as soon as possible because it was good to dive in and do it and not build up any anxiety about what the water holds now and what it represents.
“I was never a surfer or a professional body boarder. It actually happened by chance. I joined a group of coaches from high performance centres…. That’s when I stood on a surf board for the first time after my shark attack.”
Swanepoel’s coach Tash Mentasti‚ said: “The concept of someone getting into the ocean after such a traumatic experience‚ I cannot fathom. He is out in the water‚ learning a skill that’s not easy able bodied and now he is doing it with a prosthetic.
“Caleb has been thrown into a deep end with this. He went from getting into the water because he enjoys the ocean to being asked to compete at the South African champs‚ which was historic on its own.
“There has never been a South African disabled surfing champ‚ to then winning and being called South African adaptive surfing champ‚ to being selected for the national team and now going across to the world adaptive surfing champs‚” Mentasti said.
Swanepoel said he would not have had the opportunity of competing on a national and international level if he had not been attacked by the shark.
“Sometimes when I think about this journey and what it’s given me. It’s given me so much. It’s blessed me with so much.”
Mentasti said surfing is a technical sport that requires more than just riding the waves.
“We make it look easy. There is a lot of technical difficulty in it. From having an environment that is constantly changing – no wave is ever the same – to riding equipment that reacts to weight‚” she said.
“Surfing is all compression and extension‚ rotation of your ankle joints. He [Swanepoel] doesn’t have an ankle on his prosthetic‚ but he is willing to try. He wants to stand. He wants to feel that sensation of riding a wave‚” Mentasti added.
“I’m really enjoying the challenge of standing up‚ even if the waves are small. You hope for the sight of bigger waves. I love the feeling of being able to work towards something like that. Not for competition‚ just the enjoyment of I can still do something like this. I never did this before when I was fully able bodied and now all of a sudden I am doing something I wouldn’t have expected anyone who had done an amputation to do.”
“It’s just amazing to know that as much as the ocean took something from him‚ it still gives him so much‚” Mentasti said