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Hawaii Man Honored For Fighting Off Shark, Protecting Group

University of Hawaii / Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
University of Hawaii / Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

WAILUKU — A paddleboarder earned the Maui Police department's highest civilian honor for fighting off an attack by a tiger shark to protect members of a tour group he was leading.

The department awarded its Civilian Medal of Valor to Triston Kahookele-Santos Tuesday, The Maui News reported.

The 20-year-old employee of the Andaz Beach Crew, part of the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, was leading five stand-up paddle-boarders about a quarter-mile (0.40 kilometers) offshore around 9:30 a.m. Feb. 5.

The group was watching whales and following fish and a manta ray, Maui police spokeswoman Lt. Audra Sellers said.

A 10-foot (3-meter) tiger shark appeared and launched an attack at a Washington man in the group, “violently thrashing his board,” Sellers said.

Kahookele-Santos used the blade of his paddle to strike the shark, which let go of the board and turned on Kahookele-Santos. The others paddled safely to shore as he fought off the shark with the paddle while it circled him three times.

No injuries were reported as a result of the attack.

“On the inside, it was a little worrisome,” he said. “But on the outside, I had to stay calm for everyone.”

While Kahookele-Santos focused on the shark, he told the others to paddle in slowly and try to keep splashing to a minimum.

“It came to try (to) bite my board. I’d hit it off. It would come again,” he said. “Then it finally disengaged.”

His mother, Maui Police Officer Marjorie Kahookele-Pea, said she was proud of his actions.

“He followed protocol, he followed exactly what he was supposed to do,” she said.

Kahookele-Santos thanked those who taught him about the ocean.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to be calm out there,” he said. “It’s being taught to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

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