A Minnesota man fought off a 14-foot tiger shark that attacked him while he was paddleboarding in Maui over the weekend.
“It was nuts,” said Matt Mason, 48, who escaped unscathed after he punched the shark. “It was something, man.”
Mason said he and his wife, Beth, were paddleboarding about 150 yards from shore off Wailea Beach late Saturday morning on the last day of a nine-day trip to Hawaii.
Mason said he was kneeling on his board when he felt a jolt, and the board started speeding forward. Mason said he thought his wife, who was paddling a board behind him, had rammed him as a joke. But then he looked over his shoulder, and “there was this head attached to the back of the board.”
“I said, ‘(Expletive), this is a shark,’ ” Mason said.
“I yelled, ‘Shark! Shark! Shark!’ Probably in a lot higher-pitched voice than I’m using right now,” Mason said Tuesday from his home in Chanhassen.
Mason said the shark, which had clamped its jaws to the back of the board, gave a twist, and it threw him off. He landed on the shark’s back.
He said his wife, who was paddling about five feet behind him, had seen the shark swim underneath her board and attack his board. When he fell into the water, she yelled, “Hit him, Mas, hit him!”
“I was giving him advice,” Beth Mason said. “Who hasn’t watched ‘Shark Week?’”
Matt Mason did as he was told, punching the shark somewhere in the midsection. He said he believes the shark didn’t bite him then because it was still holding onto the board.
Then he went under the water. During the attack, the board’s leash had ripped from his ankle, but after he resurfaced, he was able to grab his paddle, and then spotted his board floating not too far away.
He swam toward it, worried the shark would grab onto his legs. But he managed to get back on the board “pretty damn quick.”
He said “it was like having an aircraft carrier in front of me.”
“I felt so much safer when I was on that board,” he said.
Shaken up, the couple paddled back to shore. But he said he was able to joke to his wife that he lost his sunglasses in the water.
“He asked me to jump in and grab his glasses,” Beth Mason said.
She replied, “Why didn’t I have a GoPro?”
“It was pretty wild,” Beth Mason said Tuesday. “It was very surreal.”
On the paddle back, worried the shark was still there, Matt Mason told himself, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall.”
“It’s kind of hard to balance on these things,” he said. But he didn’t fall, and he didn’t see the shark again.
A small crowd of people onshore had seen the attack and even filmed the incident with their cellphones.
He told the crowd, “Seriously, no one’s getting me a beer? I’d really like a beer.”
The police were called, and a natural resources official measured the bite marks on the board and determined it was a 14-foot tiger shark that attacked Mason. Shark warning signs were posted on the beach after the incident, the first shark bite incident this year in Hawaii. Last year there were 10 incidents in the state, including one fatality, where a shark bit a person or a board, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Mason, a sales manager for Thermo King, was in Hawaii partly for a work function. But as the winner of a company award, he didn’t have to attend all of the company meetings.
That’s why he was paddle boarding on Saturday morning. After he got back on the beach, a colleague can be heard on a video chiding him, “That’s what you get for not going to the meeting, Matt.”
Mason said the rental facility wanted to take back the board and hang it on the wall.
“I said, ‘No, you’re not. I’m not letting go of this board,’ ” Mason said. He refused to let go of the board that he believes saved his life, he said.
“I wouldn’t let the board out of my sight the whole day,” he said. “I was really attached to it that day.”
He said he agreed to buy the $1,000 board for $500. The Four Seasons Resort Maui, where he was staying, offered to ship the board back home to Minnesota. The hotel comped the rest of the day for them, he said.
They even replaced his sunglasses.
Mason said his wife hurt her thumb during the incident because she gripped her paddle so hard. He said he got an ear infection from all the time he spent in the water over the vacation. But he’s not complaining.
“It’s all unicorns and rainbows right now,” he said.
Mason plans to hang the board over his bar at home. Or he’ll take it out on the lakes in Minnesota.
“It’s perfectly usable,” he said.
Plus there are no sharks here, he noted.