Brand New Me: This guy took up surfing after a shark bit his leg off

Caleb Swanepoel fell in love with surfing after a shark attack changed everything

Brand New Me: Caleb Swanepoel became a surfer after a shark attack
(Image credit: Future)

A young South African actor took up surfing after having his leg bitten off by a great white shark. 

Caleb Swanepoel, 26, of Cape Town, South Africa, was only 20 when his life changed forever. Bodysurfing in the sea with his brother Sandy during a family holiday in Buffalo Bay, Caleb was attacked by a great white, which pulled him underwater and severed his right leg above the knee. 

Caleb told our sibling YouTube channel Truly: “I felt this thing slam into me and I was pulled under the water. I had an out of body experience, I felt like it was a dream. I didn't think I was going to make it.” 

The great white returned - biting through the rubber tip of Sandy’s flipper but leaving his actual foot unscathed. Caleb was able to get to shore with the help of Sandy before collapsing in his mother’s arms and being airlifted to hospital, where he made a lightning-fast recovery. 

Watch Caleb's inspiring story here:

Caleb stood up using a walker after 4 or 5 days before progressing to crutches - and went back in the water only a month after his accident. Caleb decided to take up surfing after his accident, using a prosthetic that locks into his surfboard. 

He was invited to the first ever South African Adaptive Surfing Championships, winning his category and earning a spot to represent South Africa at the World Adaptive Surfing Games. Caleb said: “Something I take away from my shark attack is to value what you’ve been given. I think a lot of the time we take for granted our bodies, I want to show people that your disability doesn’t define you - it’s just part of you.”

Why you should take up surfing:

Surfing is one of the best workouts for abs you can do. Staying upright on an unstable surface is great for our legs, core and lower back muscles. One study found training on unstable surfaces was particularly great for rehabilitation and motor control, helping us to stay upright and train muscles that have been out of the game for a while. 

It doesn't matter whether you have sustained a shark attack injury of you've just been out of the game for a while: a low-impact exercise which helps your core, like surfing or swimming, can help develop your muscles and improve your general fitness. 

If surfing seems a little daunting, swimming can offer many of the same benefits. Water provides resistance while taking some of your weight, making swimming an amazing form of exercise for those looking to approach fitness for the first time. One study found "when cold water swimming is practiced by experienced people with good health in a regular, graded and adjusted mode, it appears to bring health benefits" including an improved immune system and increased metabolism. 

It also gets us out into nature, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression by decreasing the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Just 20 minutes of being outdoors in the sea can have us destressed and relaxed. This doesn't just apply to the water: get on your best shoes for walking and grab your best water bottle for hiking and hit the great outdoors. 

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.