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.
"I grabbed onto them like handlebars, and when I did that, the shark let me go," Kathrein said.
He struggled toward the beach, unable to move his right leg.
At about that time, John McCosker, a shark expert, was sitting in his office at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and began getting phone calls from the Stinson lifeguards about an apparent shark attack victim.
"They asked me what to do, and I told them I wasn't a physician," said McCosker, who had given lectures on shark attacks to lifeguards.
Paramedics were called and Kathrein was taken by helicopter to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where he spent seven hours in surgery. "The doctors stopped counting after 600 stitches," Kathrein said. "All of the major muscles in my right leg were severed."
At the hospital, McCosker confirmed that a tooth pulled from Kathrein's leg belonged to a great white. He called Kathrein during his recovery, and the two struck up a friendship.
A three-sport athlete, Kathrein was forced to sit out the soccer and water polo seasons, spending six months in physical therapy learning how to walk. During his recovery, Kathrein fielded dozens of questions about the accident.
"At the time it was pretty big local news, and people would see me at the mall on crutches and start asking questions like, 'Do you hate sharks?' and 'do you want to hunt sharks?' " he said.
Gradually, the teen began to realize a calling. Sharks were stigmatized, and he could change that.