Tybee surf instructor details shark attack, returns to the beach

Local News

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — Atsushi Yamada, or Hot Sushi as he’s commonly referred to, has long been a recognizable figure on the beaches of Tybee Island.

Teaching daily surf lessons on 18th Street Beach for nearly 20 years at Hot Sushi’s Happy Surf Camp Aloha, Yamada spends the majority of his time in the water. On Tuesday, he was instructing a class when he noticed one his surfers had gotten a little too far out from shore.

“Finally she listened to me, and she agreed to go back to the shore, so she caught a wave,” Yamada said. “Fortunately, she was right by me. I was looking back to make sure she was close enough to everybody, and three seconds later I got attacked.”

In what is only the 16th recorded shark attack in Georgia’s history, a shark bit the back of Yamada’s leg. Causing a pain sensation that he describes as, unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“To be honest it felt like I got hit by baseball bat real hard, real strong impact. Very weird feeling,” Yamada said. “All I can say is just, I’m so thankful it was me and wasn’t the people around me at that time, nothing else.”

Even the Tybee Island Fire Department was stunned to hear about the incident, given how uncommon shark attacks are. According to the International Wildlife Museum, the odds of being bit by a shark are just under 1 in 4 million.

“When the call first came in, it came in over the radio and my first thought was ‘there’s no way’, shark attacks especially here are so uncommon, extremely rare,” said Matt Bowen, Tybee Island Firefighter & Life Guard.

Bowen warns that if you see a disturbance in the water, alert those around you and find the closest lifeguard so they can further monitor the situation.

“Definitely recommend exiting the water if you’re unsure of what it could be [in the water], and letting the folks around you know as well,” Bowen said. “That you believe there possibly could be a shark in the water, and also let us lifeguards know so we can monitor the situation and intervene if we need to.”

With the help of his friend’s chest-high waders, Hot Sushi was able to get back in the water on Thursday albeit only up to his ankles.

His wound is still healing, but Yamada hopes to make his full return to the water by Aug. 25 for the start of Surfer’s Healing event in South Carolina, a one-day event focused on getting thousands of special needs children onto a board and in the water.

Hot Sushi said he’s just happy to still be here and to still be a dish better-served warm.

“That’s what I’m telling people. I joke with people, my nickname is Hot Sushi. I’m still Hot Sushi, not cold sushi yet,” joked Yamada.

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