North Shore shark attack survivor 'fulfilling dream' with return to surfing
HALEIWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been nearly 17 months since Colin Cook was attacked by a 13-foot tiger shark on Oahu's North Shore.
The 27-year-old lost his leg to the animal, which he called "relentless." It's a miracle he even survived, and his road to recovery has been a tumultuous one.
Now, the dedicated surfer says he's trying to live more with one leg than he ever did with two -- especially when it comes to the ocean.
"I was in the surf industry, surfing every day, living here on the North Shore," Cook said. "To go from that, to sitting on the couch, it was heartbreaking."
Cook remembers the attack at "Leftovers" vividly. He says if it wasn't for Keoni Bowthorpe -- who fought off the shark -- he doubts he would have made it out alive.
"I remember thinking, the second I was dragged onto the beach, I thought I was going to die," said Cook. "I remember looking at my leg and going, 'If I survive, how am I going to be able to surf again?'" said Cook.
But Cook was determined. On the first day after the attack, he took his first step. A month later, he learned how to swim with one leg -- and started practicing pop ups.
A month after that, he was using crutches to get into the water back home, in Rhode Island, and riding waves on his stomach.
The desire to get back on a board consumed him, but there were painful moments along the way.
"The first time I tried on a prosthetic, that was the first time I cried after losing my leg," Cook said. "Everybody was telling me that everything is so high-tech, you're going to be back surfing, doing whatever you want. It's not as easy as it looks."
At times, he says, the pain was unbearable.
"My goal was to get back to surfing, no matter what," he said. "There was no surfing prosthetic for me, so that was hard. I didn't take no for an answer. I built my own leg."
And he means that literally. Cook eventually found out that there is no market for surfing prosthetics designed for above-the-knee amputees.
So he and his friends made one.
"One-of-a-kind, custom, carbon fiber surfing prosthetic, just 100 percent for me," he said.
"The different part is that I lost my leg above the knee. So I can't have any sort of joint because I'll just collapse. So with this design there is no true joint, it's just flex. So it allows to stand in that crouched position, I get to surf kind of how I want to."
Last December, Cook entered his first competition using the prosthetic -- the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship.
He represented Hawaii and placed fourth. This past weekend, Cook won gold at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championship.
"It's been an amazing journey. Colin has changed a lot, he's got more confidence," said Chris Courtois, head coach of the Hawaii State Adaptive Surf Team.
Cook "created a masterpiece of a surf leg so he can fulfill his dream," he added.
"People say getting back out there is inspiring. For me it's not really inspiring. It's just me doing what I love to do," Cook said.
Ultimately, Cook says he still has a lot left to achieve. His goal is to ultimately get to the 2024 Paralympics.
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