North Bay man's shark encounter inspires role as ocean guardian

  • Jonathan Kathrein peers at the passing waters of the Santa Rosa Creek nearby his work on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Kathrein survived a shark attack in 1998, motivating him to become an advocate for sharks and ocean conservation. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Jonathan Kathrein was one day away from starting his junior year at Saint Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco.

The 16-year-old Chicago transplant had spent his summer dabbling in surfing, and decided to spend that last day of freedom, Aug. 26, 1998, boogie boarding with a friend at Stinson Beach.

The cold water caused Kathrein's friend to bail out early, but he stayed in. He was paddling parallel to shore when his hand hit something in the water.

Unnerved, he began to head back to shore. Within seconds, a 12-foot great white shark came underneath Kathrein on his right side and bit into his leg, pulling him into the water.

Kathrein, now 30, works to defend the same sharks that almost killed him. His book "Surviving the Shark" was released in July, and he has spoken internationally about his story.

He now works in Santa Rosa on clean-energy projects as a government relations specialist for former Congressman Doug Bosco, chairman of the California State Coastal Conservancy. Bosco also is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

"I've tried to deflect attention from my survival to the fact that sharks don't want to eat people," Kathrein said. "Sharks aren't interested in people, if they were, there would be a lot more attacks."

But on that 1998 summer morning, Kathrein knew only that his leg was firmly in a shark's mouth.

"I knew right away that it was a shark because it was big and powerful," Kathrein said. "It was too big to fight so I just tried to hold onto it in hopes of minimizing the damage."

Kathrein tried to throw his arms around the shark, but it was too large. He opened his eyes and saw the shark's gill slits in front of him.

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