A surfer who was almost killed when she was mauled by a great white shark before her partner punched it in the eye said the shark ‘just wanted to eat’ her.
Chantelle Doyle, 35, was surfing with the love of her life Mark Rapley at Shelly Beach in Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales mid-north coast, when she was attacked at about 9.30am on August 15.
The beast latched on to Ms Doyle’s right calf and the back of her thigh before Mr Rapley launched into action, punching the predator eight times.
Mr Rapley was quickly hailed a hero around the nation for leaping on to the shark’s back and fighting it off until it finally let his partner go.
Ms Doyle has finally spoken publicly about the horrific incident and has spent the 12 days since her attack talking to shark experts and conservationists.
‘They said maybe it did just want to eat me,’ she told The Guardian.
On the morning of August 15 Ms Doyle, an environmental scientist, had decided to take a break from her PhD to surf with her partner.
As the 35-year-old paddled closer to shore she said something hit underneath the board with ‘enough thrust’ to throw her off.
‘I just thought – “whale or shark” – and I looked down and there was nothing grey. I felt something grab my leg – I think I yelled “Shark, shark, shark”,’ Ms Doyle said.
She desperately grabbed onto the board and felt the beast readjust its jaws around her leg three times.
Ms Doyle said the bite was painful, but felt like more an ‘intense pressure and squeezing and crushing’.
Mr Rapley had been ten metres away and paddles to her as soon as he saw Ms Doyle get thrown off her board.
Once he got to a metre away he saw the shark and slipped off his board and onto Ms Doyle’s back before punching it repeatedly with his right fist.
He said the shark’s flesh felt hard like a professional boxing bag and was terrified to see Ms Doyle’s entire leg wrapped by the predator’s mouth.
Between eight to ten punches later and the shark finally gave in by releasing the 35-year-old’s leg and swimming away.
Throughout the entire ordeal Ms Doyle had not seen the shark once, and said the adrenaline made her entire leg feel numb to the pain.
‘It was like this heavy weight hanging off the back of my leg. Like a bag of concrete. To me, it felt like it was dragging along,’ she said.
Once on the sand a nurse who had watched the scene unfold rushed over to tourniquet the wound with the leg rope from Ms Doyle’s surfboard.
The ambulance quickly arrived but the car park was 700 metres down the beach, prompting Mr Rapley and four others to carry Ms Doyle for 20 minutes on a surfboard as a stretcher.
At one point they dropped her onto the sand as the blood had made the surfboard slippery, but Ms Doyle joked by saying ‘I’m only 60 kilos, what’s wrong with you?’.
She was rushed to Port Macquarie Base Hospital but was moved to the bigger city of Newcastle and John Hunter Hospital. On Tuesday she was moved again to a hospital closer to Sydney.
The shark had severed the nerve in Ms Doyle’s leg below the knee and still has limited feeling in the area.
Ms Doyle is expected to have more operations after having two major ones already.
Shortly after the attack Mr Rapley opened up to media about his experience in the water and insisted he was no hero.
‘I knew she was going to be in trouble… I just started paddling over and you react,’ Mr Rapley said.
‘When you see the mother of your child, your support and everything that’s who you are – you just react, you just think “get off that calf, get off”.’
‘You’re not thinking “punch” your body just reacts… you start punching, you start thinking where to punch, I’ll attack the eye.’
Mr Rapley said the other surfers and the people on the beach were the real heroes for working to save both his and Ms Doyle’s life.
‘Two guys paddled behind me straight toward her, and that’s not their wife,’ he said.
‘I don’t like that (hero) title but I would love it bandied around with the collection of people who did an amazing job to keep her alive – and she’s alive.’
Mr Rapley and Ms Doyle have been together nine years and are not married.
They have now started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the Australian Marine Conservation Society as Ms Doyle wants people to treat the planet better.
With the hashtag #punchingforhealthyoceans, the couple are hoping to educate people on the importance of sharks.
‘We have received a lot of interest and generous offers of support following our Shark encounter on the 15th August,’ the fundraiser says.
‘Yes, the story is true and scary and will mean big life changes whilst recovering.’
‘If you would like to offer up some support, we would encourage you to make a small donation (circa $30) to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, who combine science and conservation to promote ocean health.’
‘Healthy oceans mean a better future for everyone and that relies on apex predators – Sharks.’