EPISODE 373
Mike Coots
From Shark Attack Survivor to Shark Advocate (with Mike Coots)

Mark speaks with Mike Coots, shark conservation activist, photographer, shark attack survivor, and all-around inspiration. Mike became an amputee when he lost his right leg in a tiger shark attack at 18 years old while bodyboarding, but he didn’t let that stop him from getting back in the water.

Mike Coots
Listen Now
Show Notes

Today, Commander Divine speaks with Mike Coots, shark conservation activist, photographer, and shark attack survivor. In this episode, Mike discusses his incredible shark attack survival story and journey as an amputee, as well as the unsung role sharks play in the ocean’s ecosystem.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sharks are the garbagemen of the sea. Think about what would happen if you didn’t have someone collect your trash. Your house would get unlivable pretty quickly. This is what sharks do: they get rid of the sick, the dying, the diseased, and the trash in the ocean. If we lose our sharks, we lose our oceans.
  • The scourge of shark fin soup. One of the biggest dangers to sharks is shark fin soup. It’s supposed to be a delicacy, but it has no nutritional value and very little cultural value. Shark flesh of a shark has very little commercial value, whereas a shark fin commercially can go for hundreds and hundreds of dollars a pound. So fishermen just keep the fins only because they have limited space out at sea. They dump the rest of the shark overboard, still alive, and it will swim in circles for a couple of days and end up dead on the seafloor. You’re taking such a little part of an animal that’s much needed, all for a soup that isn’t needed at all.
  • De-scarifying the shark. Mike’s underwater photography is a little different than other photographers… he shoots sharks as if they were humans. When he edits photos, he emphasizes attributes of the shark that humanize it; maybe a slight smirk, or a catchlight in its eye. His goal is to have people see a bit of themselves in the image. He says, “If you can relate to something, it makes you want to learn more about it and protect it.”
  • The tides are changing. Through social media and the younger generation, people are starting to realize the value of whales and sharks in our oceans and are urging the older generation to make changes. There are so many good organizations out there that are doing such good things. We hear all this doom and gloom about our oceans, but to see all these different nonprofits, and especially so many young people actively involved, it gives us hope.

Quotes:

“I felt something grab my legs. This immense pressure, I didn’t feel any pain. And I looked down and it was lifting me out of the water. It was a large tiger shark and I knew I was getting attacked. It was very visual and I just felt like if there was 10 Navy SEALs sitting on my leg.”

“Yeah, you know, but I thought they’re gonna say that I had like five minutes before I’d die and to say my final goodbyes. And I was like, no, no. And at that moment, I just felt really fortunate to be alive and to be surrounded by family.”

“It’s considered a desert, that area, as you know, and using these crutches and awkwardly like the crutches would halfway sink into the sand every step and doing this awkward to the water’s edge, put away the crutches and get on my knees and I started just knee walk into the water and how good that felt the first time, just letting go the crutches and letting go of gravity. And it felt like I was returning home. It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.”

“That month that I was out of the water. It sounds weird to say but it was more difficult just missing out on good surf than actually being limbless. Like, I was more concerned about what swells I was missing than my future as an amputee.”

“I’ve got a running blade. I used to hate running pre shark attack. And once that is sort of removed from your life, I don’t know, you find value in it I guess.”

“To myself and to other amputees, your prosthetic is the most valuable tangible item you own. Like, it’s more important to you than your car, any possible item, like your prosthetic is your everything. It’s your transportation, it’s your self worth, it’s your way to see your family, it’s your way to make a living, it’s… that thing breaks, you are stopped dead in your tracks.”

“Kind of sounds silly to say, but it’s true, [sharks are] the garbage men and garbage women of the sea. So you don’t have someone collect your trash, after the first week on your curb, you know, you’ll get some flies and it’s stinky. And that’s the sharks do, they get rid of the sick, the dying, the diseased, the weak, they get rid of the trash in the ocean. Next week, the garbage man or woman doesn’t come, a month later, two months, you’re not gonna want to live in that ocean. That’s what sharks do. They play a role that, you know, maybe 100 years ago, we didn’t know about. But we do today, and if we lose our sharks in our oceans, we don’t have our oceans. Our oceans are gonna die and with our oceans will be us as humans.”

“Through social media and a younger generation, people are realizing the value of whales and sharks in our oceans and urging the older generation of their parents or grandparents.”

“Shark fin soup is supposed to be, you know, a delicacy, but it has no nutritional value, it’s got very little cultural value. You catch a shark for just its fins. And the actual flesh of a shark has very little commercial value, pennies on the dollar per pound. Whereas a shark fin commercially can go for hundreds and hundreds of dollars a pound. So they just keep the fins only because you’re out at sea, and you’ve only got a certain amount of ice, why are you going to keep the shark flesh? So they just dump the rest of the shark overboard, still alive usually. It’ll swim in circles for a couple of days and end up dead on the seafloor. Just really barbaric. And you’re taking such a little part of an animal that’s much needed, for a soup that isn’t needed.”

“My underwater photography is a little different than other photographers… early on, I really started gravitating towards shooting stuff underwater like they were humans… I use portrait lenses and I use techniques like I was shooting a person. And when I go to edit photos, I look for things like if it’s a tiger shark with maybe a smile, or a smirk, or a catch light in the eye, or something where you can look at the image and you can see a bit of yourself in it. I think there’s power in that and value in that, and if you can relate to something instead of it just being a fish or this or that but, wow there’s beauty, or I can see a little bit of myself in this… it makes you want to learn more about it and in turn protect it.”

“There’s so many good organizations out there that are doing such good things. And I think, you know, we hear all this doom and gloom about our oceans and ocean acidification and global warming, and it just goes on and on. But to see all these different nonprofits, and especially so many young people actively involved, I think it gives you a bit of hope.”

Mark Divine 1:05
Coming up on the Mark Divine Show…

Mike Coots
I felt something grab my legs. This immense pressure, I didn’t feel any pain. And I looked down and it was lifting me out of the water. It was a large tiger shark and I knew I was getting attacked. It was very visual and I just felt like if there was 10 Navy SEALs sitting on my leg.

Mark Divine 1:27
This is Mark Divine and this is the Mark Divine Show. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, resilient leaders. My guests range from martial arts grandmasters, meditation monks, Blockchain wizards and even survivors of shark attacks like today’s guest. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk to Mike Coots, surfer, photographer, and survivor of a shark attack where he lost his leg. He’s a shark advocate for shark conservation. All around just an incredible guy. Mike has been featured on CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Discovery, a bunch of other places with his photography, and he’s working on some movies and the guy’s just an all around incredible guy, recipient of the GoPro Hero Award, partner with Canon GoPro coach Patti and Costa Del Mar.

Mark Divine 2:18
Mike, super stoked to have you here today. I appreciate you joining me all the way from Kawaii.

Mike Coots
Aloha Mark. Thanks for having me.

Mark Divine
Yes, my pleasure. I’m super stoked to talk to you. I love doing a little research and seeing some of the videos and some of the photography you’ve done. It’s really impressive.

Mike Coots
Thank you.

Mark Divine
Give me a sense for like who Mike was when you were growing up, where you’re from, what were some of your childhood influences and let’s start there and I want to get into your whole relationship with sharks how that started.

Mike Coots
Okay, I was born on a tiny little island here in Hawaii called Kawaii. Like I guess any other kid that lives on an island loved the ocean, loved everything about the sea, and I think I caught my first wave at four years old when snorkeling certainly for the first time maybe five years old.

Mark Divine
How did you come to live on Kawaii by the way, how did that happen?

Mike Coots
My folks fell in love with it. They got married here, had me and I popped out on a little island. But it was a great place growing up. I mean, we would literally as soon as school got out elementary days, right to the beach. It was whoever’s friend’s parents are going to the beach jump in with them, started hitchhiking in my early teens. It was just a real safe place to stick your thumb out and next beach drop us off. And we would hang there till dark, come home, have dinner with the family, wake up go to school. And if it was wintertime, we would go surfing It was summertime we would go diving, go snorkeling. Everything revolved around the weather, what the ocean conditions were doing, and how fast we could get from that school bell in the school yard to the white sandy beach.

Mark Divine
So I’ve been to Kawaii and especially that North Shore region, man, the weather changes practically every minute, used to have a saying if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute, right. And those waves in the North Shore of Kawaii are incredible. But when was your first time to like brave, one of those big waves?

Mike Coots
Would have been probably in my mid teens, I would say 15, 16 years old. And it’s sort of like it seemed like maybe every year you try to have two foot of how big you would go out in. It’s really your friends pushing you. And sometimes you’ve got your tail between your legs, you paddle out, the only reason you’re going out is because you’re you know, you don’t be the one guy in your group of friends to not go out. And a lot of times we would just get our butts kicked by the ocean but it’s, it was just all a part of it, makes you really I guess really respect what the ocean can do, we get some of the biggest surfers in the world here. In the winter months starting in October ish and ending in May. And it can go from being like a lake, dead flat flat as a pancake and an hour later being as high as a five story building easily in that time period.

Mark Divine
Wow, that surprises me that it can change that quickly.

Mike Coots
Yeah, and it can drop that fast as well. You really got to be on your toes. And fortunately, we’ve got some really good surf forecasting websites now. And you can anticipate those swells and schedule your work and, and play around the weather and the waves.

Mark Divine
You know, I’ve surfed a tiny bit back when I was at SEAL Team Three, but I never I never really kind of took to it because I, unlike you I didn’t grow up near the ocean. I grew up on a lake. So for me and for those who aren’t surfers, can you describe the experience of surfing a big wave? And like what would you consider a big wave, anything over like 10 feet?

Mike Coots
I’d say a big wave would be anything maybe over three times head height or four times head height. Yeah, three to four times head high. There’s two types of big wave surfing, there’s using a jetski to assist you in and those are typically really, really big waves. And that’s a completely different experience than using your arms to catch a wave. With the jetski you’re sort of at the mercy of your driver. Hopefully you’ve got a really good driver. They’re sort of selecting the way for you getting you into it, and then you let go of the tow rope but it’s this loud, noisy wind in your face kind of experience and then the jetski as soon as you let go of the rope, the jetski disappears. You start hearing the humming of your surfboard, it goes silent except for your surfboard, you know, hitting the face of the wave and then it’s up to you to dictate how you ride that wave. Whereas you’re paddling in, you’ve got to sit yourself sort of in that danger zone by yourself. And you’ve really got to learn how to read the waves, when to paddle out. I mean paddling out sometimes when it’s big as half the…

Mark Divine
That’s where a lot of the work is done. I mean, physically, right?

Mike Coots
Yeah, totally,

Mark Divine
Are there surfers who just do, you know, like tow in surfing?

Mike Coots
Not so much. There’s a lot of big wave surfers that won’t tow in, just paddle. And then a lot of the big wave surfers that tow in will also paddle. So you’ve got this crossover, but… and there’s sort of two different camps and a lot of spots. If guys are towing, you don’t want to be paddling. And vice versa.

Mark Divine
Yeah, cuz you don’t want to get run over by…

Mike Coots
Exactly, exactly, yep.

Mark Divine
So when you dump, right, let’s say, you know, the tow in is bad, or you know, you miss the wave or your lose your whatever balance, and you’re on a 24 foot wave or a 30 foot wave. What’s that experience like?

Mike Coots
Hopefully, you’ve got an impact vest on or somebody watching you, the last five to 10 years technology has really improved with an inflatable vest. And that’s for really big waves. And that’s a bit out of my league where you’ve got a co2 cartridge in your vest. And as you’re underwater, you basically pull a pin and you turn into an airbag and shoot to the surface. And when it’s really, really big. And there’s only maybe like three to five surf spots in the world that people use these on the very biggest of the biggest swells otherwise use what’s called an impact vest. And it’s a sort of a newer technology. And it’s just, it’s a wet suit, it seems uncomplicated, but it’s, it really helps a lot. It’s a wet suit that’s got foam sewn into it. So you’re a little bit more buoyant. And you can still get under the waves and get under a duck dive when you need to get under like a big wave. But if you were held under, you pop up much faster. And then there’s also if you were to get knocked out, which happens, you rise to the surface and somebody can resuscitate you or help you or grab you or find your body or so that’s been a big thing as well. And as much as it physically helps you, you know, pop up to the surface gets your breath… It’s also I think it’s like for your mind, it makes your mind strong, that you’ve got everything you need. And then you’ve got this extra little bit of help.

Mark Divine
Your fear level, the arousal response is probably dampened quite a bit. You know, I remember just watching surfing years ago, and actually I’m looking at a cover of Outside magazine or Kelly Slater on it. They didn’t have that technology, did they? They were kind of going in slick.

Mike Coots
They were going in, and mad respect to guys that were doing it without all this technology and without a team of jet skis around them, a safety team watching them or people up on the cliff with binoculars and two way radios. I mean, now it’s a completely team effort when the waves are big.

Mark Divine
So a big part of your story is that you were out doing your thing. And suddenly, you are lunch. Talk about your experience, because there’s nothing more terrifying for most of us than that, getting attacked by a shark.

Mike Coots
I was 18 years old at the time on a surfing team called Kawaii Classic. There was about 10 of us teammates. We were very competitive. We all had aspirations of making a living riding waves, being professional wave riders, and I had graduated high school that year. This was in 1997. Wintertime the waves are huge, summertime, it goes flat. That summer, it was just completely barely rideable. And we change seasons and we’re coming into the winter surf season and this was late October and we hadn’t had a swell which is pretty unusual for that time of year. And finally we saw on the charts a beautiful swell coming and we got really excited as a team and the day before we were like okay, we’re gonna pick you know, the beach that we’re gonna go to the next morning. Usually the waves are the best in the morning and we pick the spot called Majors Bay. It’s on a Navy base on the western side of…

Mark Divine
Is that Barking Sands?

Mike Coots
Exactly, yeah.

Mark Divine
That’s where I pulled up on the submarine… after walking out of the submarine, we pulled up there in our zodiacs one night.

Mark Coots
Okay, I’ve seen amphibious vehicles come out from under the deep come up on the beach. I’ve seen missile launches from there. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff. Yeah, pretty active base, but really good waves. And we got there the next morning at Barking Sands at about seven or so in the morning, the sun was rising. And this was pre 911. So we could drive on the beach. Now you can’t because of security reasons. But we would drive right up to where the waves are good. And park there and surf. And that’s what we did. And we remember, we were in this old Scout vehicle and we opened the doors of the car and I smelled like a crazy disgusting smell I’d never smelled before, it like rancid fish like dead fish, like a really stinky smell and probably should have used that as a cue not to go surfing that day. It was, I’ve never smelled that until this day. I’ve never smelled that again. In hindsight, it would have been a smart thing. But like I said, we hadn’t seen waves that good in five months or so. So there was nothing stopping us. And we jumped in the water and we all paddled out. I had a coach on the beach who was filming. And right off the bat my friends got really good rides. We were in about 20 feet of water. So it was pretty murky. And this last wave came, waves come in sets. You get like three to eight waves or so. And I knew it was one of the last waves of the sets because my friends all got the very first waves of it and there was a guy next to me I’d never surfed with before and he started paddling for the wave and as he paddled by, I paddled as well and you don’t share waves. It’s not what you do in surfing. So I was like, hoping that paddling a little right behind him that he would back off and I would get the wave. And as I’m paddling. I felt something grab my legs. This immense pressure. I didn’t feel any pain. And I looked down and it was lifting me out of the water and it was a large tiger shark and I knew I was getting attacked. It was very visual. And I just felt like if there was 10 Navy SEALs sitting on my leg, zero pain.

Mark Divine
You were in his mouth?

Mike Coots
In his mouth, I had both my legs in its mouth.

Mark Divine
Both your legs? Holy shit.

Mike Coots
Yeah, both my legs and I stuck my right hand in its mouth to try to get my legs out, just totally instinct. You know, you just do what you got to do. And that didn’t work. And I remember it lifting me out of the water even higher and swaying me back and forth like a dog with a piece of meat with a steak or something, that that swaying just like really like left and right swaying. My left hand, I punched it in the nose, I must have hit it like two or three times. And I remember it let go. And that immense pressure released and I got back on my board, I looked at the guy next to me, he was white as a ghost, his eyes he was like..

Mark Divine
He saw what was happening.

Mike Coots
He saw, he was right there. I mean, we were probably like three, four feet away. He saw everything. And I looked at him and I didn’t know what to say I just yelled “shark, go in.” And he started without a word just beeline to the beach, I looked at my finger that I had stuck in the shark’s mouth to get my legs out. And it was completely split open. I could see the bone, there was just, I’d never been injured like that in my life. I better get to shore, I got hurt in this and started paddling and as I’m paddling in… when you’re paddling, you’re in a prone position, you don’t see what’s behind you, you just see what’s forward. And the surfer in front of me, I mean, he’s about maybe 20 feet in front of me heading to the beach. It’s a good ways offshore, we’ve got a good paddle and especially because we didn’t catch a wave. And I’m paddling in, and my right leg starts doing this, like uncontrollable spasm. And I’m thinking as it’s shaking, I can’t see what it is. The shark is coming back to finish me off. That’s just what I thought, you know, like, what’s the shaking, it’s the shark. And I looked over my right shoulder thinking I was gonna see a big set of jaws, you know, the last second of my life and it wasn’t that it was my leg had been severed completely off, shaking just I think from the trauma. And I could see these just huge squirts of blood. Squirting 10 I mean must have been 10 feet or so, just fire hydrant coming out of my severed limb and it was cut off like you took a samurai sword and sliced it right off the shark. It was a really good surgeon.

Mark Divine
Just one leg, right? Yeah, one leg. Yep, my right leg, a little bit about halfway up the shin.

Mark Divine 13:07
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show, to hear a short message from one of our partners.

Mark Divine 13:18
And now back to the show.

Mark Divine 13:25
I mean, the average person would have passed out right there.

Mike Coots
I was kind of almost getting to that. But I was just like, oh, this is not good. And a little wave, fortunately, came right there as I’m kind of my brain just processing this stuff. And I caught it right up to the sand. And it shot me sort of up this little sand embankment. And I tried standing up, because that’s just what you’re used to born with two legs and without a foot I couldn’t stand and I rolled back down the sand and I’m covered in this blood sand just all over my body and my teammates thought was happening and they dragged me a little further up the sand dune and my friend Kyle, quick thinking took my leash. It’s like a plastic elastic type cord. And made a tourniquet which I later found saved my life. He tightened it about halfway up my sort of like little past my knee area and stopped the bleeding and they all gathered around me and said a prayer for me. And I remember not not being scared of dying, not being fearful of death. And just like a real calm collective, warm feeling like if I go, and I actually did think I was gonna die. It’s there was no fear…

Mark Divine
It wasn’t terror, it was just acceptance.

Mike Coots
Yeah, nothing like that. I wasn’t, there was no panic. There was no screaming, there was nobody, nobody else screaming, opened my eyes from this little prayer and there had been a pickup truck that somebody at the beach saw what was happening and took his pickup truck and they pulled it right up next to me, they threw me in the bed of the truck. There was a couple surfboards in the back of the truck that had this cloth fabric and I remember laying next to the fabric, and he put in 4 wheel drive and it took off to the emergency room. Everything happened so fast. Nobody thought to jump in the back of a truck so I was just by myself in the bed of this truck. And we got on the main road and this would have been about 730 or so in the morning time for kids to go to school. And we were going really fast passing car after car after car I could look like I didn’t want to look at my injury. I just thought if I didn’t look at it, I was grossed out about blood and bone and all that stuff. So I was just like, I’m not going to look at it. But I would look at everybody’s faces as we pass cars…

Mark Divine
And they can see you

Mike Coots
Yeah and there’s just blood gushing out the tailgate, and by the expression of other people, I knew that my injury was just by the you know… we can read it by other people’s expressions that you’re injured and I started playing with that surfboard fabric on the board back to keep my mind off of what was happening. And I remember going in this like state of going really hot, really cold, really hot and I was obviously falling into shock and one second I was trying to use that cloth that I was playing with to wrap around me, another second. I’ve taken off my wetsuit top because I’m so hot in the cycle like back and forth. And this is all within like a eight minute car ride. Hot, cold, hot, cold and we pulled up to the emergency room and the guy driving me Keith had called in, let them know what was happening. So they were expecting me and we backed right up into the ER and the ER doors opened up and a doctor, a nurse or somebody was a guy who ran up to me, he put his arm on my shoulder and I passed out. And I think I was just probably waiting for help. And as soon as he put his arm on my shoulder I gave into. And I passed out. And I woke up sort of in this lucid state in our small little hospital on the west side called KVMH. And explained that I got attacked by a shark, how big it was. And so and so…

Mark Divine
I don’t think you needed to explain that.

Mike Coots 16:21
And I think I was apologizing for bringing, like, you know, half the beach to the operating room.

Mark Divine
Isn’t that funny? That’s a pretty common kind of response is like, sorry, I mean, to put you guys out, meanwhile, you’re missing a leg.

Mike Coots 16:36
Having a morning coffee, you know, and all of a sudden this guy comes in. My dad’s a medic, and I was in an ambulance going to a bigger hospital after they sort of just stopped all the bleeding and everything at the small hospital. And it was my dad’s partner, his medic partner is making shark jokes and I was kind of in this weird foggy state and passed out again and woke up the next day, it would have been about 24 hours later, post surgery at our main hospital Wilcox, surrounded by my parents, and it was a real somber mood. I remember out of the movies, where you, your eyelids sort of flicker. And I remember like just this like flickering, flickering and opening up and all this light. And my parents looking right over me with a doctor and a real sad moment. And I’m like, what’s going on? And the doctor’s like you want to tell him? You know, to my mom, who was like, you know, like, you lost your leg to a shark attack. And I was like, I know, I saw it come off. I think the mood right there lifted and they’re like, Okay, he’s you know, he’s.

Mark Divine
They weren’t sure that you are aware of it. Oh, wow.

Mike Coots
Yeah, you know, but I thought they’re gonna say that I had like five minutes before I’d die and to say my final goodbyes. And I was like, no, no. And at that moment, I just felt really fortunate to be alive and to be surrounded by family. And spent about a week or so in the hospital had a lot of visitors.

Mark Divine
How was your hand by the way? Was your hand torn apart?

Mike Coots
Yep. My hand was torn apart. My index finger. That shark’s tooth had cut the nerve. So I needed to get nerve surgery done. I’m a photographer. It’s my trigger finger where I push the button. And it took me a few years to get that sensation back, that touch.

Mark Divine
You were a photographer before this happened?

Mike Coots
No, I wasn’t. I was sort of just started dabbling in photography. I had a camera and it would have been about the next year to two years that I really fell in love with photography. But I remember just this weird sensation every time I’d push the trigger, and it was just this numb, kind of almost like electrical shocky feeling. Yeah, about a week or so in the hospital, spent about a month at home bedridden. And as soon as the stitches and staples came out and the doctor said the infection was gone, I was back in the water. And it just so happened to be very close. It was on the military base. Pretty much right next to where I got attacked.

Mark Divine
Did you get back in the water with a prosthesis? Or did you go slick?

Mike Coots
No, I went on boogie boarding and I used crutches. And I remember just like that sand there is so soft and so hot. It’s considered a desert, that area, as you know, and using these crutches and awkwardly like the crutches would halfway sink into the sand every step and doing this awkward to the water’s edge, put away the crutches and get on my knees and I started just knee walk into the water and how good that felt the first time, just letting go the crutches and letting go of gravity. And it felt like I was returning home. It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. And I’d never been out of the water that long in my life.

Mark Divine
So you didn’t have any thoughts about not going back on the water? Because fear of sharks or anything like that after that.

Mike Coots
No, not at all.

Mark Divine
That’s another thing that would be you know, that’s unexpected probably to hear. It’s like, you go in and have something traumatic like that you think well, it’s probably a good place to avoid, you know.

Mike Coots
That month that I was out of the water. It sounds weird to say but it was more difficult just missing out on good surf than actually being limbless. Like, I was more concerned about what swells I was missing than my future as an amputee.

Mark Divine
So what was that like? I mean, I’ve talked to different folks who’ve lost limbs, you know, military vets, as well as others. What was going through your psychology knowing that you’d never be the same physically because you lost a pretty important piece of your body?

Mike Coots
It would have been the third or fourth day I was in the hospital up until that point. And you know, I’ve got a lot of friends with spinal cord injuries and there’s… not taking away from anything like that. But that’s what I thought I was gonna be, was in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I had no idea about prosthetics. I had never seen an amputee in my life. I had never seen a prosthetic. Not even on TV, I was just completely ignorant to the fact that there’s prosthetics out there. And I had a guy visit me yeah, maybe the fourth day there, wearing pants. And I have a lot of people coming and going a lot of people just in the community I didn’t know and they just stopped by with their well wishes. And I thought he was doing the same. He was there for maybe five minutes at the most, said hi. And you know, we’re thinking about you and left and my mom mentioned, you know, he’s an amputee and he’s got a prosthetic and that’s what you’re gonna get. And I was just like, What is that like? And that was a total defining moment for me, of okay, there’s going to be something that a device that’s going to help me work, get to the beach, maybe even surf with, and it’s crazy. Just a five minute visit just profoundly changed the outcome and my outlook of what post shark attack life was going to be like.

Mark Divine
So let’s talk a little bit about your prosthesis and the state of the technology because I know it’s changing fast.

Mike Coots
Yep.

Mark Divine
Is there anything unique or customized about what you put on your leg? And is it designed for surfing or how does it work?

Mike Coots
I’m very fortunate and I’m, there’s a lot of obviously people that aren’t as fortunate as me. And there’s the insurance for prosthetics. It’s I mean, New York, I think they’ve got a policy it’s one limb a life and you get one prosthetic under your insurance plan for your entire life. You can imagine like having one pair of shoes, you only wear that for your wedding or your parents funeral or something like that. It would stay in the closet the rest of the year.

Mark Divine
Yeah, you know, the work that I’ve done with that is I know there’s different prostheses for different situations, you know, you got the running one that has like the blade on it, you know, and there’s probably like a water version that’s waterproof.

Mike Coots
Yep. So I’m fortunate I’ve got the waterproof version. I take that surfing. It’s in the back of my truck right now. And anytime I jump in for a swim, surf, dive, anything, it’s ready to go in the back of my truck. It’s with stainless steel and titanium components that don’t rust. I’ve got a running blade. I used to hate running pre shark attack. And once that is sort of removed from your life, I don’t know, you find value in it I guess.

Mark Divine
I can see that.

Mike Coots
I love to run. Yep, so I got a running blade. It’s called a Cheetah. My sound foot or my sound knee can’t keep up with my prosthetic. If I was a double amputee, I’d be able to run faster. It’s incredible the amount of return energy you get from that carbon. And then I’ve got an everyday leg that I wear if I’m doing a photo shoot or just around the house or whatnot. So I’m fortunate I’ve got three prosthetics and that quiver can get me through pretty much anything I face day to day. I partner with an Icelandic brand called a steward of the global leader in prosthetics. But for the majority of my journey as an amputee, I didn’t have health insurance, I’m a self employed contractor. And I had a pre existing condition so I couldn’t get health insurance and I would buy feet off Ebay, used feet and stuff would break and I got really good at using epoxy and JB weld and stuff like that. And so I know the journey of amputees going through right now where they, something breaks. And literally it feels like your world stops. To myself and to other amputees, your prosthetic is the most valuable tangible item you own. Like, it’s more important to you than your car, any possible item, like your prosthetic is your everything. It’s your transportation, it’s your self worth, it’s your way to see your family, it’s your way to make a living, it’s… that thing breaks, you are stopped dead in your tracks.

Mark Divine
I imagine that you take care of it, kind of like a Navy SEAL would take care of his weapon, right?

Mike Coots
Exactly

Mark Divine
And he’s always going with it and tweaking it and oiling it and making sure that baby is in tip top shape.

Mike Coots
Absolutely. But one thing I’ve learned though, is you don’t want to put too much WD 40 on your prosthetic because it sets off the TSA every single time.

Mark Divine 23:36
By the way, how do you get through TSA, do you have to like pick up your leg and point it out and say I got a fake leg?

Mike Coots
Yeah, and I think they’re pretty used to seeing people in wheelchairs and yeah, but I get screened every single time but the WD 40 sets off a secondary screening which is…

Mark Divine 23:53
like you’re carrying something inside this leg here.

Mike Coots
Yeah, right.

Mark Divine 24:01
Okay, wouldn’t it take a short break here from the Mark Divine show to hear a short message from one of our partners

Mark Divine 24:10
and now back to the show

Mark Divine 24:19
Okay, so you, you got through that, because you become really, really good with your photography, right? You’re really doing some unique work. How did this spur your interest in photography? Like, what was the link between the accident? Or was it a trajectory you’re already on?

Mike Coots
My photography journey would have been about six months after the shark attack. I was like, okay, well, my career as a professional wave rider, it’s pretty much that’s done with, I need to figure out a new new route and I got a job working in a surf shop on the south side. And the first day I was standing on my prosthetic all day and got the craziest blister. I had to go to the ER have them cut it open, drain it, and I was just thinking you know, every job on this island is in the service industry. It’s a tourism based economy. You’re a valet, you’re running around, anything, you’re on your feet, and I had fallen in love with photography. When I was out of the water for a little while, my friends were professional surfers and my coach had a camera. I started photographing them and I loved it and talked to my parents and I was like, maybe I should try a route as a photographer. I applied to photography school in Santa Barbara, a great school called Brooks Institute, went there, spent four years studying photography. I wanted to shoot girls in bikinis.

Mark Divine 25:28
Yeah, why not?

Mike Coots
And I learned how to shoot people, studied portraiture. And my last year in school, I got a phone call from a lady named Debbie, just a random call. And she was like, I’m a shark attack survivor like yourself and wanted to know if you wanted to get into shark conservation. And that had been a word I’d never heard of. And she’s like, don’t worry, watch a documentary on YouTube. It’s free, called Sharkwater. And I watched it that night and was absolutely blown away by what’s happening in our oceans with sharks, overfishing and shark fin soup and the important role sharks play in our oceans and call it the next day. I’m like, I want to help. I got a unique situation. And if there’s any way I, you know, I love the ocean, obviously sharks in this film, show me the value that they are in the ocean. And she’s like, well, we’ve got a lot going through Congress coming up. And if you’d like to be an advocate for sharks, using your irony, and come lobby some of the senators in Washington and I did that, and we got the bill passed. And about six months after that we had a state law here in Hawaii that banned shark fin and shark fin soup. And I testified, as you know, using the irony as a shark attack survivor, and somebody who loves the ocean, we got that passed.

In this process, I’m shooting girls in bikinis, and I’m doing commercial photography work and had some really good editorial jobs in some magazines, and I was invited, I was sort of getting immersed in the shark world and got invited on a shark dive. And I brought my camera and took it underwater. And we were diving off of Mexico, great whites. And I remember that very first dive and what it was like looking at a great weight and photographing a great white. And I’m like, This is better than any girl in a bikini. This is the ultimate subject in the world. And since that day, I have fallen in love with Shark photography, and sharing stories of sharks and the visuals of the beauty of sharks and also why we need sharks.

Mark Divine
So for those of us who don’t know, you know, what happens when you take an apex species out of the environment, give us a sense for what you know, the importance of sharks and, and why it’s important to this conservation effort is so important.

Mike Coots
Sharks are, as you said, they’re an apex species, but they’re also a keystone species. So they indirectly or disproportionately affect the health of our oceans, maybe more than other fish or other mammals. Kind of sounds silly to say, but it’s true, and they’re the garbage men and garbage women of the sea. So you don’t have someone collect your trash, after the first week on your curb, you know, you’ll get some flies and it’s stinky. And that’s the sharks do, they get rid of the sick, the dying, the diseased, the weak, they get rid of the trash in the ocean. Next week, the garbage man or woman doesn’t come, a month later, two months, you’re not gonna want to live in that ocean. That’s what sharks do. They play a role that, you know, maybe 100 years ago, we didn’t know about. But we do today, and if we lose our sharks in our oceans, we don’t have our oceans. Our oceans are gonna die and with our oceans will be us as humans.

Mark Divine
You know, it seems to me that the biggest offenders are the Asian countries that continue to overfish, both sharks and whales. And is there any progress to be made in that area?

Mike Coots
Yes. Fortunately, a couple of different things, one, through social media and a younger generation, people are realizing the value of whales and sharks in our oceans and urging the older generation of their parents or grandparents. For sharks, it’s called shark fin soup. It’s supposed to be, you know, a delicacy, but it has no nutritional value, it’s got very little cultural value, you catch a shark for just its fins. And the actual flesh of a shark has very little commercial value, pennies on the dollar per pound. Whereas a shark fin commercially can go for hundreds and hundreds of dollars a pound. So they just keep the fins only because you’re out at sea, and you’ve only got a certain amount of ice, why are you going to keep the shark flesh? So they just dump the rest of the shark overboard, still alive usually, it’ll swim in circles for a couple of days and end up dead on the seafloor, just really barbaric. And you’re taking such a little part of animal that’s much needed for a soup that isn’t needed.

And then you’ve also got pressures of the commercial fishing industry. Sharks are a huge bycatch for certain types of tuna and swordfish. Bycatch are the long lines. And there’s ways of mitigating that. It’s just to some of these foreign companies or even American companies, it’s cheaper to take a lot of sharks than it is to change your hooks so that you don’t catch as many sharks. And this stuff’s changing. And fortunately, we’ve got a good push of people worldwide that want to be conscious consumers. And I hope, you know, that we don’t have the demise of the shark and they go the way of the dinosaurs. I mean, they’re older than dinosaurs, which you wouldn’t think, but yeah.

Mark Divine
So is the biggest benefit in awareness or prevention, or where do you get the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to like…

Mike Coots
I guess they go hand in hand, but it would be just as a consumer knowing with seafood where your seafood comes from, if possible, get it from the guy that’s got a boat down the street that goes fishing for the day, instead of from the big commercial operations. Go to a restaurant, ask for fresh seafood, not something that’s caught on a foreign long lane vessel that is catching a lot a lot of sharks.

Mark Divine
Do you combine your photography with the conservation piece?

Mike Coots
Yeah, I have and I let a lot of nonprofits use my imagery to tell stories. I got a pretty active social media platform where I try to tell stories or stuff I’ve seen underwater. My underwater photography is a little different than other photographers. I studied shooting people. Traditionally in underwater photography, you use a fisheye lens, and you want to get the entire animal in the shot. And I early on really started gravitating towards shooting stuff underwater like they were humans. It sounds silly, but when you look at the imagery, I use portrait lenses and I use techniques like I was shooting a person. And when I go to edit photos, I look for things like if it’s a tiger shark with maybe a smile, or a smirk, or a catch light in the eye, or something where you can look at the image and you can see a bit of yourself in it. I think there’s power in that and value in that, and if you can relate to something instead of it just being a fish or this or that but, wow there’s beauty, or I can see a little bit of myself in this… it makes you want to learn more about it and in turn protect it. And that’s sort of my route and my angle and it’s a bit unorthodox but…
Mark Divine
Descarifying the shark, you know?

Mike Coots
Yes, exactly.

Mark Divine
Instead of a terrifying thing, you can look at it as a more important creature. Awe Inspiring.

Mike Coots
Yeah, Hollywood’s done a really good job of selling that scariness of sharks to us. And when you go shark diving, you are quick to learn that you see beauty and you see life and you see soul and you see some you know, and a lot of that, it gets lost in imagery. And it gets lost in the storytelling, and especially with sharks.

Mark Divine
I interviewed a shark guy who did that shark diving once. And he told me that he thought that sharks could recognize, you know, different humans, like so those who kind of repeatedly went down there, he said, he could swear that this one shark knew him, right. And it came up to him once he just like, stared at him, and then swam off. And I thought that was a pretty cool story. Did you ever have any experience like or feeling like that, like sharks would recognize you underwater?

Mike Coots
No, I haven’t, because I don’t go to the same location enough. I’m pretty isolated here in a way and I don’t eat too much shark diving here. I’m always on trips. But I know that’s true. And if you’ve seen My Octopus Teacher, you would know you know, with octopuses. Yeah, that’s a great film.

Mark Divine
I wanted to bring up another thing, because I could kind of acquaint you with this friend of mine, guy named Jimmy Chin.

Mike Coots
I know, Jimmy, he surfs over here.

Mark Divine
Yeah, he’s a phenomenal guy. What made his photography and then obviously his movie producing so unique as he could get like, into the mind of the climber, and be on the rock face with the climber and be able to see it from the perspective of the climber, which is really cool, because normally, photographers are photographers, and they’re photographing someone in a different domain than their what they’re used to. You understand surfing and you understand the water. And you can see things from a different perspective than everyday photography.

Mike Coots
Some of the best underwater photographers are the best divers. I mean, it’s sort of such a niche, completely different world and photographing on land. And above and beyond, you just want to be really a confident diver more so than a confident photographer, that’ll get you a lot further.

Mark Divine
And I can see that just diving in and of itself requires a high degree of skill to do it safely. And then to also be worried about taking pictures underwater. That’s pretty cool.

Mike Coots
And then throwing any you know, large shark, sharks, or multiple sharks. And that’s when it gets really you know

Mark Divine
You’re not in a cage when you do your photography?

Mike Coots
It depends what species and depends where in the world, but majority no, I’m not in a cage. And sometimes you’ll get though mixed species like you are in the Bahamas, you get Tiger sharks, you could have like three or four Tiger sharks at once. You can have a bull shark, you could have a bunch of reef sharks. And you could have a great hammerhead. They’ve got different personalities, but they’ve also got different hierarchies on the totem pole. So they’ve got this dynamic that if you just jump in the water, you’ve never been around sharks, it’s unaware to you but they’re jockeying for position, they’re doing all these different sorts of subtle, subtle dances in a way, communicating with each other. But saying, I’m, you know, I’m more powerful than you or I’m this or that. And you’ve really got to, if you want to get good imagery, you’ve got to really be cognizant of that. And especially from the safety side of things, because stuff can happen so fast that you wouldn’t even be aware of and it’s because there’s multiple species or stuff like that.

Mark Divine
Have you ever been threatened by a shark while you’ve been in the water? Besides your accident, obviously.

Mike Coots
Yeah, I had a great white, nearly take my head off. I was in this submersible called Spock. It’s kinda like a submarine. But without walls, it’s got a cage, you’ve got a pilot behind you that’s driving you, you’ve got scuba gear on with headsets, you can talk to the pilot behind you. And the pilot’s got basically a steering wheel that’s controlling four underwater submersibles, or four like little jets, and it’s hooked to a battery, a central battery. And these jets give off like this weird humming noise. And we were in Mexico and I was in the front filming. And it’s really good for very cinematic shots, because you can hang halfway out of this submersible, so you’re completely exposed to the ocean and the sharks around you. So it’s like you’re in a moving cage, but you’re hanging out in the cage, if that makes sense. And we had this white shark, it would have been about a 12 foot female that kept playing chicken with us and would come straight at me towards the camera and I’m in the very front, I was using a 50 millimeter lens. So it’s got a little bit of a zoom. And I’m like normally I’m looking through the viewfinder, so I’m getting sort of a distorted view and it would kind of come right into the area where it would be a little bit too close to focus and then it would pull away at the last second. We were playing this underwater chicken and about the fourth pass or so it didn’t turn away and started getting too close, right couldn’t focus couldn’t focus can focus and then I put the camera down to look above me. It came up with its jaws and was literally millimeters right above my face with this big like I could feel the wave from its body and its face and it …Yeah, and it, I got incredible footage from it, but it freaked me out. Yeah. And I had so much adrenaline and everybody on the boat above saw it because we were pretty shallow and the footage above and everybody’s screaming and it was just one of those things where it’s like holy crap you know, that was a close one. And I had a tiger shark bite in my prosthetic in the Bahamas. I have two little metal bolts and it was digging in the sand and it was just, it wasn’t because it was hungry or anything. I think it was just curious with a metal. I was using a running blade actually underwater because it was also a film crew and they wanted to get shot to the prosthetic and the running blade is very visual because of the big curve. So I was using that with the two bolts on the end.

Mark Divine
So you’ve gotten the same leg eaten twice. That’s pretty rare. That is intense. What do you focus on now? Like, what’s next for you, Mike?

Mike Coots
The short term, I’m working on a coffee table book on sharks, sort of a portrait book, but showing the beauty of sharks and hopefully people see sharks in a different light. And working on a couple little film projects. We’re coming into the white shark season. So getting excited to do some diving and also just enjoying I guess, home here in Hawaii this summer with my girlfriend.

Mark Divine
Do you have your own organization? Or what’s the organization you support for the shark work?

Mike Coots
No, I work with multiple organizations. I love Challenge Athletes Foundation. They’re out of California. Have you heard of that?

Mark Divine
Of course. Yeah. I got a lot of team guy friends who are part of that.

Mike Coots
Yep, yep. CAF, they do incredible stuff. And a lot of what we talked about earlier, if people that want to do sports or want to have a running blade and insurance won’t cover that, basically insurance is going to cover what’s necessary for you to get out of bed and get back to bed, nothing else. And they fill that void by gifting and giving grants to amputees around the world or people with spinal cord injuries who want to be in sports. Wheelchairs for adaptive basketball, and whatnot. And there are really great nonprofit. Fins Attached. They do a lot of stuff with Shark Finning, great nonprofit. There’s so many good organizations out there that are doing such good things. And I think, you know, we hear all this doom and gloom about our oceans and ocean acidification and global warming, and it just goes on and on. But to see all these different nonprofits, and especially so many young people actively involved, I think it gives you a bit of hope. And it’s good stuff.

Mark Divine
I’m glad you brought that up because I was gonna ask you kind of as a parting shot, like, what’s your vision for the future? There’s so much negativity these days, you know, I have a very positive vision for the future. I just think that, you know, we’re gonna go through another five to 10 years of kind of chaos, but it’s your generation and younger, which is going to drive the change through their behavior, and through the way you think.

Mike Coots
I mean, it is, it’s hard to not be discouraged, or, you know, you just need to look anywhere on the news or anywhere around you and then see what’s going on. But it really is, it’s the younger generation. I think they get it. It kind of sucks because we’re the ones putting that burden on them and it’s gonna be their responsibility to clean up a lot of our messes. I hate to say but I think they’re ready for the task.

Mark Divine
Okay, so where can we find you on the web, social media, where do you want people to kind of learn about track you?

Mike Coots
My Instagram, Mike Coots. And from there you can sort of see what’s going on and I’ve got a link to the stuff I do, my art. I’ve got a link on there. And yeah, at Mike Coots on Instagram.

Mark Divine
Mike, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. It’s a fascinating story. And I appreciate the work that you’re doing. I’m a big, obviously big fan of the ocean. All my team guy friends are and it’s really important work. And I think when people don’t grow up and live around the ocean, they don’t, they’re not not aware of how important the oceans are to the overall ecology of the planet.

Mike Coots
Well, thanks for having me, Mark. And thanks for sharing my story to the world.

Mark Divine
Yeah, my pleasure.

Mark Divine 39:01
Wow, tell you what, that was a fascinating episode with Mike Coots, shark attack survivor, ocean conservation advocate.

Show notes and transcripts will be on the site at Mark divine.com. You can watch the video up on YouTube at Mark divine.com/youtube. On Twitter, you can find me at Mark Divine and on Instagram or Facebook at real Mark Divine. And you can find me on my LinkedIn account. If you want to reach out and propose guests or just send questions in that I can hit up in a solo cast.

If you’re not on my newsletter, email list, then consider joining that by going to Mark divine.com and subscribing. Every week, I’ll send out show notes from the show that we’re gonna launch as well as my blog and other cool things that inspire me that I think you’d find valuable.

I’d love to acknowledge my amazing team, Jason Sanderson, Geoff Haskell, Jeff Torres, and Melinda Hershey, who helped produce this podcast and bring incredible guests like Mike to you every week. Reviews and ratings are very, very helpful. My goal is to get 5000 5 star ratings by the end of this year, we’re well over 1000. So wherever you listen to this podcast, hopefully Apple or Amazon or one of those places, then consider going and rating and giving us a review. So other people find it and gives us credibility, and we continue to grow this audience. So I can continue to do this work.

The world is changing fast. It looks like it’s chaotic and violent. And it is in a sense, but a lot of that’s just magnified by our media. So shut off your TV and work on yourself. Develop your positive attitude, your positive mindset, do something that is helpful and positive every day. And that includes working on yourself. I know you are because you’re listening to the show. So thank you for doing the work. Pay it forward just by how you show up. Till next time, be careful in the water. And go check out Sharkwater documentary and learn about the conservation work that Mike is involved in. Hoo-yah, see you next time. Goodbye now.

Transcript

ContactLEAVE A
COMMENT

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.