Cleveland Bigelow III had already caught some waves Wednesday morning off Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, and was about to stand up on his paddleboard 30 yards from shore.
Then the shark struck.
He didn’t see a dorsal fin or any other part of the shark, for that matter, but Bigelow, a 69-year-old retiree who lives in Chatham year-round, knew instantly what happened: the shark had chomped down on the right, rear portion of his board.
“I knew what it was,” he said Wednesday night. “Because seals don’t do that.”
On his paddleboard, Bigelow gave himself a quick rundown, realized there was no damage, no blood, and that “no shark teeth touched me.”
“I turned and paddled faster than I ever have in my life,” he said.
Bigelow, who tries to get out on the water “everyday” and surfs during the winter, said he was shocked but did not become unglued.
“It scared the crap out of me, needless to say,” he said.
There was a group of about 30 people taking surf lessons 30 yards from where the shark struck. Bigelow wanted to get them out of the water. Once he reached the shore, he alerted the people running the surf school and lifeguards on the beach that he had been attacked by a shark.
People then got out of the water. He said Wednesday night authorities told him the shark was believed to be a 5-foot to 7-foot juvenile great white shark.
The shark’s strike didn’t throw him from the board, although the impact left him with a hematoma on his leg, he said. He was in about three feet of water at the time.
“It was like being on a bicycle and getting hit by a car,” he said.
Bigelow thought the shark figured out pretty quickly his board wouldn’t make for a tasty snack.
“It was a classic catch-and-release,” he said. “It knew instantly.”
The beach was temporarily closed to swimmers after Bigelow’s scare. According to the Cape Cod National Seashore, the attack happened around 10 a.m.
The incident occurred not far from the lifeguard-protected beach area, according to a Facebook post from that park service.
“Seals were observed swimming nearby. The encounter occurred during high tide and in calm seas,” the post said.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries and the nonprofit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy are investigating the incident.
State marine biologist Greg Skomal confirmed that it was a great white shark, which are known to patrol Cape Cod waters this time of year in search of a meal.
The shark encounter follows a recent scare where a great white sank its teeth into a seal, causing the water to turn red at Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach. A man had been swimming nearby, and two surfers scrambled for shore.
On Wednesday, the Cape Cod National Seashore shared a photo on Facebook that showed bite marks in the side of Bigelow’s board, forming the shape of a semicircle.
“There’s a million things that could have happened,” said Bigelow. “I’m very grateful to God that it turned out like it did.”