HONOLULU (KHON) – Mike Morita said he’s grateful to be alive after losing his foot in a shark attack while surfing with friends in Honolulu.

Morita, 58, was bitten by the shark just before 7 a.m. Sunday morning, Honolulu Emergency Medical Services said. He had been surfing off the Kewalo Basin, an area said to be an unusual spot for shark attacks, according to marine life experts.

Morita said he and his friends were catching small waves in the clear waters that morning. Just before he was attacked, he was lying on his board, waiting for the waves to come in.

“It wasn’t really like a chomp. It was just pressure,” Morita said. “I can feel the strength of it and right away I knew it was a shark.”

Morita’s friends told him the shark pulled him underwater and was shaking him back and forth.

The 58-year-old says he tried punching the shark but didn’t succeed. So he wrapped his arms and legs around the shark to get to its eyes.

“I wrapped my arm around it and my body around it. And at that point, I was trying to go for the eyes but my hand ended up by the gills. So as soon as I touched by the gills it let go,” Morita recalled.

He added that he couldn’t believe the courage of his friends — who paddled toward him to help, even with the shark’s teeth still grasped on his leg.

“They said when they reached me, the shark was still on me, so they were scared for their lives too. But when it finally let go, they were there for me. They were in shock also,” Morita said.

Mike Morita is shown surfing in this undated photo. Morita lost his foot in a shark attack on April 9, 2023. (Courtesy Kamu Morita)
Mike Morita is shown surfing in this undated photo. Morita lost his foot in a shark attack on April 9, 2023. (Courtesy Kamu Morita)

Morita’s friends put him on a surfboard to return him to shore. When Morita saw his own leg, he knew they had to stop the bleeding.

“My friends tied tourniquets on my leg with their leashes and that’s hard to do, hard to tie a leash and use it as a tourniquet,” he said.

He credits their actions with saving his life. First responders have said as much, too.

Morita now has a long road to recovery. But he’s not dwelling the negative, saying instead that he’s just happy to be alive and grateful for those who helped save him, including his friends, first responders and hospital staff.

He said he also has a renewed appreciation for life and the love of his family.

“It’s a close community we got out there and we always look out for each other. And sure enough, when I needed it, they came together and they came to me and they saved my life,” Morita said.

“I want everybody to learn from this and maybe this can inspire other people who are going through some tough times that we can get through things and I’m just grateful to be alive,” he added.

Morita remains in the trauma center as of Thursday, though he was in great spirits.

Kewalos is a regular spot where Morita surfs. He said he’s seen sharks there before, though the last documented attack was reported in 2002, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website.

Marine experts said the recent rainy weather may have contributed to the incident.

“And it’s right at the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal so all the water that runs down the mountains and feeds into the Ala Wai was being flushed down there, and that carries all these interesting scents and smells and garbage and things that will just attract the sharks in from outside,” said Andrew Rossiter, the director of the Waikiki Aquarium.

Officials said Morita was bitten by an eight-foot tiger shark, which is fairly common in that area.

“They see them practically every time they’re there, but on this occasion, it was about an 8-foot-long shark so probably an adolescent, a little bit less selective in what it’s gonna bite,” said Rossiter.

Morita, who works as a full-time ramp serviceman for United Airlines, said he planned on returning to work with a prosthetic — and possibly getting back on a surfboard.

“The doctors are telling me that it’s up to me whether what I’m going to do. Yes I’d like to surf again but if I never surf again I’m still happy, I’ll be alright,” he said.