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Close Calls In Paradise

Scuba Steve nearly dies twice in one day.

As Told By DJ Struntz

Everyone used to know me as DJ, but this year in Tahiti, during the WCT, I became Scuba Steve. I was doing a lot of free diving trying to spear fish to eat, but I kept coming home empty handed and it sort of became a running joke. After the third day in a row without my shooting any fish, Travis Logie somehow came up with this nickname “Scuba Steve.” Everyone else made sure it stuck, and the rest of the trip I became Scuba. I figured I’d just spear a few fish at the next tour stop and it would go away, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
A week later we were in Fiji for the next contest, and for the first few days we got really good surf, but then a little flat spell hit. It was bad for surfing, but great for fishing. So one morning I got a boat to take me out to a reef ledge I’d heard about, and the driver said he’d hang out with me and I could just dive next to the boat. I jumped over the side and starting swimming down, but I wasn’t seeing any fish. All of a sudden, I saw this jellyfish-looking thing swim right by me. It was weird because it was moving pretty fast, not just floating along with the current. Next thing I knew, it was swimming right under my throat. I pulled back to get a look at it, and I noticed it was shaped like a box with a tentacle coming off of each corner.
I’d never seen a box jellyfish before, but if I was going to draw what I thought one looked like, that’s exactly what I would’ve drawn. I got that danger feeling deep down, ’cause I automatically knew the thing was poisonous. So I kicked away from it and headed down again, and it floated away. A minute later, I came back up and was just floating on the surface, scanning the reef for fish, when all of a sudden it felt like someone jammed an ice pick hooked up to a power outlet into the side of my face. My whole body started convulsing, and right about then I spotted the jellyfish next to me, and I could tell it had just grazed me with the tip of one of its tentacles. It had just barely touched me, but the pain was incredible-it was unbearable, and I needed to get to the boat fast.
I popped my head up and went for the boat, but it was nowhere to be seen. That’s when I started to get really worried. I figured I wasn’t going to die from the sting, but I needed to get to shore quickly. So I started swimming toward the island as fast as I could, which took me about a half hour. When I got there, I ran up to the doctor, and he checked the sting out and put me on some painkillers and antihistamines. Even with all the painkillers, it was the worst pain I’d ever felt and lasted all day, but at that point, I was just relieved to be on land and alive.
I talked to some local divers, and they told me that that kind of jellyfish can easily kill you if it wraps you up. I was super lucky that it just barely touched me on the face. If it had wrapped a tentacle around my neck, I probably would’ve died.
So that was my morning. The rest of the day I just hung out at the pool, and the doctor was checking up on me hourly. Early in the afternoon he decided I was doing okay, which was good news. The bad news was that I still hadn’t gotten any fish, and that’s when everyone fired up the whole Scuba Steve thing. Even Coach Cotà‡ was busting my balls for not getting any fish, and everyone was getting me all amped up to get some real fish. Somehow, I talked the boat driver into taking me back out.
This time we went to a different spot, on the corner of Nomotu. As soon as I hit the water, there were fish everywhere, and within minutes, I had three or four nice-sized ones speared and in the boat. All my success was creating all sorts of commotion and blood, and it attracted a few large Bronzed Whalers, which are some solid-sized sharks. They were swimming a few meters below me, acting kind of agitated. I knew that if I got another fish, I’d have to swim it up to the boaat fast or the sharks would take it from me.
I was looking around, hoping to find some walu and thinking about ways to keep it away from the sharks, when all of a sudden I saw a big school of barracuda coming my way. I’d heard the Fijians really like to eat barracuda, so I decided to try and bring one home. I swam down and found the biggest one in the school-probably about four feet long-and hit it perfectly. It didn’t even twitch, it just started sinking to the bottom. I took it up to the boat, and the driver was stoked and asked if I could get him another one. I said, “Sure, that thing was a piece of cake.”
I kicked back down there and immediately shot a second one. But this one ran hard. It wasn’t a big deal, though, because he was just trying to swim away from me, which was good because I had my hands full trying to keep an eye on the sharks and other barracudas. As I was swimming up to the surface, he was about fifteen feet away on the end of my line, but all of a sudden out the corner of my eye I saw him flip around and gun it straight at me. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to get my gun in front of me-it just exploded toward me and bit me right in the groin.
When it rammed me, I could tell it had cut me pretty good, and to top it off, its teeth got caught in my wetsuit. I was rolling around with the thing, trying to get it loose, and I had both my hands around it. I was kinda frantic, yelling at the boat driver, trying to push it away from me. Finally the driver got close enough and grabbed it off me. I jumped into the boat, and then we reeled the barracuda in from my float line and put it in the boat.
When it first happened, I knew it had bit me, but I didn’t know how serious it was. It was a nasty gash, but compared to what could’ve happened, I was super fortunate. Thank God it just missed several important things down there-if you know what I mean. It was really close, though-about a quarter inch away from giving me an amateur vasectomy. But that wasn’t the only close call. It hit me just above my femoral artery, and later that day, when the doctor checked me out (again), he said that if I hadn’t been wearing a wetsuit, it probably would’ve punctured that artery and I would’ve bled to death in the boat on the way back. When we got back, I found the doctor and he gave me four stitches, and I had a giant bruise that lasted three weeks.
It was a super crazy day, with two very close calls. Had either of them happened just a little bit differently, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story. At the end of the day, I feel like God was watching out for me-I guess I still have a few things left to do in my life. Of course, I’ll probably be known as Scuba Steve from here on out.