Wednesday Zen Moment: Man survives shark attack, bear mauling and a rattlesnake bite

Dylan McWilliams is either the luckiest or the unluckiest guy alive, depending on how you look at the odds he’s survived.

Just hours after checking in to a hotel in Hawaii, McWilliams went surfing and got attacked by a shark.

A year ago, he was mauled by a black bear in Colorado where he lives. Three years before that, he was bitten by a rattlesnake while visiting Utah.

McWilliams, 20, was on his second trip to Kauai last week after he discovered the island a year ago while backpacking. He had returned for another visit but instead of hitting the beaches, he spent time volunteering to help locals clean up and move trees following a torrential storm the weekend before.

McWilliams observed the muddy coastal waters, and he knew that nearly all of the island was under a brown-water advisory. Huge storm events like that are notorious for turning the water brown and luring sharks for an easy meal.

By Wednesday, however, he was itching to get into the surf and decided to head south in search of clear water. He found it at Shipwreck beach in Poipu, part of the small section of the Kauai coastline not included in the brown-water advisory.

Bright and early Thursday morning the water was clear, blue and inviting with 3- to 5-foot waves, he said. There were a handful of others enjoying the surf, too.

McWilliams entered the water with his boogie board at around 7:30 a.m and caught his first wave. As he was heading back out, another wave knocked him off his board in 15 feet of water about 30 yards from shore. That’s when he felt the searing pain in his right calf.

At first I panicked,” he said. “I didn’t know if I lost half my leg or what.”

McWilliams looked and saw a tiger shark he estimates was between 6 to 8 feet long. He knew it was a tiger shark because of the stripes. He gave it a swift kick then swam for shore.

“That was the scariest part. I didn’t know where the shark was, and I didn’t know if he would come after me again,” he said.

On the beach his calls for help were heard by a woman who came to his aid. She called authorities, and as he sat on the beach, his leg dripping with blood, he realized his injuries could have been a lot worse.

He ended up with seven stitches.

I’m either really lucky or really unlucky.”

He’s also prone to get into encounters with critters because of the jobs he has done. McWilliams has been a former tree trimmer, a ranch hand, a former cowboy and a survival training instructor. He spends a lot of time in the wilderness.

Last summer, while out in the woods, a bear bit into the back of his head and dragged him some 12 feet. McWilliams said he remembers waking up to the sound of the crunching of his skull, and as he was being dragged away, he instinctively fought back, throwing punches and poking the bear in the eye.

He dropped me as soon as I did that,” he remembered.

The bear stomped on him and finally slunk away as other camp staffers came to the rescue.

“If I push on the back of my head, it still hurts a little bit,” McWilliams said Friday. The teeth scars are still there, but the claw marks on his forehead have faded.

It’s crazy that another large creature would try to take a bite out of him less than a year later, he said.

“I guess I was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” he said.

But luck was on his side — just as it was 3-1/2 years ago when a pygmy faded rattlesnake surprised him as he was hiking out of a canyon near Moab, Utah.

Turns out it was a dry bite, which gave him only enough venom to make him ill for a day or two.

My parents are grateful I’m still alive.”

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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers


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