Fernandina Beach surfer details struggle with shark that bit him

'I just kind of swung down & palmed it,' Dustin Theobald says from hospital bed

By Ethan Calloway - Anchor/reporter, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After two shark bites within minutes of each other in the waters off Fernandina Beach, one of the victims detailed the harrowing experience as he recovered Monday at a Jacksonville hospital.

From his hospital bed at Baptist Medical Center, Dustin Theobald recounted being bitten by a shark Friday afternoon while he was surfing with his 8-year-old son. 

"It happened so fast," Theobald told News4Jax. "I think, when he grabbed, I closed my eyes because the pressure was on there and I just kind of swung down and palmed it."

As Theobald relived the experience that most people think of as their worst nightmare, he did so with a sense of humor.

"Your adrenaline is pumping. Everything's going," he said. "I saw people I knew on the beach. Like, one of the lifeguards was my friend's little sister and she came over and said, 'Hey Dustin!' And was, like, 'Hey, how's it going?' And the humor was already there."

But what happened was no joke. The 30-year-old and his son were surfing in the ocean near Seaside Park on South Fletcher Avenue about 3:30 p.m. Friday when he felt something bite into his right foot.

"All I felt was the pressure, just instant pressure," Theobald said. “I really didn’t see much of the shark, except for the back -- his tail when he did the whip. I saw a little bit of splash and that was it. And I grabbed the top of his head and I guess he didn’t like what he tasted, so he took off and he went one way. I went the other.”

He ordered his son to get out of the water as he worked to get back on dry land, where he realized how serious his injuries were.

"My thought was, 'Shore. Get to shore,'" Theobald said. "And, I mean, I was in knee-deep water, so I was just hobbling out. You know, I got out on my own. I got to the edge of the water and the lifeguard came and got me and the people that was ushering in, as soon as they saw the blood coming off my foot, they really got out of the water."

Within minutes of Theobald being bitten, rescuers got a call that a 17-year-old was bitten on the foot while wading in shallow water near the Surf Restaurant, just over 1 mile south of where Theobald was bitten. A Fernandina Beach Fire Department spokesman said the teen was taken to UF Health in Jacksonville with non-life-threatening puncture wounds.

Theobald, an avid surfer who grew up around the water in Fernandina Beach, said he's just thankful his son wasn't injured.

Despite what happened, Theobald won't let the shark bite keep him away from the ocean, saying he'll "definitely" get back into the water.

"No doubt in my mind," he said. "As a parent to him and my son seeing all that, I have a duty to be a role model to him. You know, fall off the horse, you've got to get back on."

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Theobald was scheduled to undergo surgery Monday evening. He hopes to be released from the hospital after the surgery. 

As he won't be able to work for several weeks, a GoFundMe account as been set up to help him out.

According to News4Jax records, there have been three shark bites so far this year in the area of Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.

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