Pro surfer Taylor Knox raises $6,000 for shark attack victim, but not without some plot twists

On Thursday night, in a small theater in his hometown of Carlsbad, California, professional surfer Taylor Knox raised over $6,000 for Leeanne Ericson, the 35-year-old mother of three from Vista, California, who was attacked by a shark at San Onofre State Beach this April.

But the night — and subsequent morning — weren’t without their plot twists. Twenty-two hundred dollars was raised via an impromptu board auction won by fellow shark-encounterer Mick Fanning. And when Knox called Ericson to deliver the good news Friday morning, she decided she should pay it forward and asked that the money be given to Hawaiian paddleboarder Kawika Matsu, who was attacked by a shark off Ascension Island this July and was in a Florida hospital until last week.

“WI-5” played to a sold-out crowd at a small theater in Taylor Knox’s hometown of Carlsbad, California. Photo: Shea Perkins

The two victims have had similar roads to recovery. Ericson was swimming around the lineup at the surf spot Church when a 10-foot shark bit her leg and dragged her underwater. When she resurfaced, grey in color and with most of the flesh from the back of her leg missing, her boyfriend brought her in on his shortboard. She was medevacked to the hospital and remained there for three months (nine weeks of which were spent in the ICU), undergoing eight surgeries to reconstruct her leg.

Matsu was paddleboarding off Ascension Island when a great white shark knocked him off his board and bit him several times. He managed to get back on his board and rescuers got him to shore. Hundreds of Ascension locals turned out to donate blood for Matsu, who had sustained bites to his shoulder, torso and leg. He was eventually transported to a Florida hospital, where he has undergone seven surgeries so far.

Knox met Ericson’s parents at a fundraiser for their daughter this summer. “They were such great people, and I was working on this movie and thought it would be fun to do a premiere night and raise some money,” Knox told GrindTV. The movie he was working on was a passion project centered on his love for riding bonzer surfboards.

According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, the bonzer was one of the first boards to use three fins, introducing two “keel-like” side fins above the center fin. Developed in 1970 and followed by a five-fin bonzer in 1982, it was once described as “without doubt surfing’s greatest example of a surfboard design slipping through the cracks.”

Jack Seymour won the board Knox rode in the film, third from left, but decided it should be auctioned to raise more funds. Photo: Shea Perkins

Duncan and Malcolm Campbell formed Campbell Brothers Surfboards in 1975 and developed a small but loyal following of bonzer enthusiasts. Knox joined the bonzer tribe in the ’90s; Duncan had opened a cafe on the North Shore of Oahu that Knox frequented on his winter pilgrimages, talking design with Duncan and borrowing the boards that hung on the cafe walls.

Sitting on clips from the last two years of bonzer excursions in Mexico, Hawaii and Southern California, Knox decided he wanted to show skeptics and surfers at large what the boards could do, as well as pay tribute to Duncan.

The result was the 12-minute edit “WI-5.” The name is a play off “Wi-Fi” and a reference to a five-fin configuration. “Wi-Fi is about having connection, and this movie is about keeping a connection to the past as well as the future,” Knox told the crowd last night.

“A big motivation was proving this board’s worth,” Knox told GrindTV. “So many people would tell me it doesn’t do this and that. I was out to prove people wrong.”

Which Knox certainly does in “WI-5,” proving the board’s mettle in all types of conditions with the impressive power surfing for which Knox is known.

The sold-out event held 300 people — a mix of groms, Knox’s childhood friends and family as well as pro surfers, in the quaint Carlsbad Village Theatre. The energy from the film carried over into the raffle portion of the evening, which literally paid off: The final prize was the bonzer Knox rode in the film, and when the winner was called, he came on stage and instead proposed an auction for the board, with the proceeds going to Ericson.

He set the bidding at $1,000, and the crowd’s momentary hesitation was palpable. But Fanning answered the call and entered a bidding war with Hurley’s Evan Slater (whose birthday was that evening) in addition to Jack Seymour (the one who had won the board) and a few others. Fanning, standing in a dark corner in the back of the theater, beer in hand, sealed the deal with a winning $2,200 bid.

Hugs for the auction winner. Photo: Shea Perkins

At the end of the auction, Ericson’s father stood up from the middle of the crowd and emotionally thanked Knox, Fanning and everyone who attended the show. Earlier in the evening, Duncan Campbell had told the crowd that while surfing looked like a huge, global phenomenon, in reality it was still about small communities and events like these put on and attended by people who are bonded through the ocean.

Though the group was small, the result was big, and it transcended the Southern California community. Thanks to Knox and his passion project in homage to the bonzer and the Campbell brothers, as well as to Leeanne Ericson, the money raised by the Carlsbad community will go to support Matsu, who continues his journey to recovery 3,000 miles away.

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