Following Sophia's injury, photographer Randy Wright reached out to us with this photo from the location of Sophia's incident. "I often look for jumping, breaching sharks at the beach where Sophia Raab was probably bitten last Wednesday afternoon," he said. "In fact, I saw her paddle out and ride a few waves, closer to shore. She was in the same area where I photographed, from a kayak, a breaching Great White Shark years ago. There are indeed sharks, near shore where Sophia surfed."
@Shark_Bite_Sophia Tells Her Side Of The Heated Online Debate
The ocean is far less hostile than the internet.
Sophia Raab says she would rather spend all her time in the ocean than look at the internet ever again. In the midst of the manic, shark obsessed state of Southern California, an Instagram post, interview with KTLA news, a GoFundMe account and uncertain information from her doctor has the 18-year-old in the centre of the most heated online debate since "What colour is the dress?".
Last week, Sophia was surfing her home break of Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles when she experienced the worst pain in her life.
The cause? She wasn’t sure, but as the water receded to reveal a 10 by 10-inch wound, it didn’t matter. All Sophia knew was that she needed help immediately. “I was in shock, I didn’t care how it happened, I just knew that there was a chunk of my leg missing,” she told Stab.
The day had started like any other. Sophia woke up early to go to work in Santa Monica, where she manages social media accounts for an online vintage clothing store between classes at the local city college.
As she was walking out the door, Sophia’s mom yelled to her from the kitchen, “Be careful honey, have a good day at work, and look out for sharks.”
At 2:30 pm, Sophia and her friend, Jessica, paddled out just south of Pacific Palisades. She said having her girlfriend in the water made up for the day's lack of waves.
“We were surfing the beach break away from everyone else and it was pretty much flat so we paddled in. I caught some white wash to go in and when I bailed to get off my board and stood up on my feet, I felt an explosion of pain. I thought I was having a nightmare,” she said struggling to hold back tears.
Sophia was standing in waist deep water when she saw that there was fat hanging from her leg. “I immediately went into fight or flight mode, I started screaming for help.”
Jessica and two surfers close by came to her aid. They helped Sophia up the beach. LA County Lifeguards responded soon after, cloaking Sophia in an aluminium blanket as they waited for help to arrive.
Sophia was rushed in an ambulance to the emergency room of UCLA Medical Center. She waited six hours in her bathing suit, three of which were spent without pain meds, to get her leg sewn shut.
After surgeons prepped her wound, she asked them to take a photo so she had proof of her story. “I knew I was going to have this scar for the rest of my life so I wanted to have a badass photo of the wound.” It took 50 stitches to close the four-inch-deep-incision.
She changed her Instagram handle to @Shark_Bite_Sophia_ and posted the graphic image online. At this point, she didn’t know whether it was a shark that caused her injury or the fin from her surfboard. “ I changed my Instagram name to make light of the situation,” said Sophia, “it sure did look like a shark bite to me.”
Unbeknownst to her at the time, the post would cause a social media shit storm that would hurt Sophia the most. “I’m just trying to recover and need all the positivity I can get.”
The following day, Sophia met with Dr Bert Mandelbaum, a former marine biologist and orthopaedic surgeon. She told him, “It could have been from my surfboard, I don’t know.”
Together, they reenacted the incident, trying to figure out how the position her body was in and how that could have led to the injury.
After an MRI and further investigation, Dr Mandelbaum came to the conclusion that it was a shark bite. “The doctor told me that he thinks the shark bit the fin as it chomped down on my leg which caused the shape of the wound.”
Sophia thinks the vehement reaction is a knee-jerk response to the latest spike in shark sightings. “I’m not trying to compare my experience to other people or scare people from surfing. That’s the last thing I want to do. There have always been sharks and there always will be, it’s part of being in the ocean.”
She said if there’s anything the experience has taught her, it's that there is safety in numbers. “I don’ think I’ll be surfing alone by myself for some time.”
After all the drama and assumptions made in Sofia's direction, we figured it was right to give her a chance to tell her side of the story. The verdict? Still uncertain. However, the facts presented don't seem to add up to an attack. To her defence, if a doctor told me I had cancer, I'd be inclined to believe him.