Apr 12, 2018
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring story than the one Kauai's Mike Coots has to tell.
When he was just 17 years old, he was attacked by a massive tiger shark on the island of Kaua'i while bodyboarding. The brutal attack cost his him right leg and very nearly his life. But surviving a shark attack is only the beginning of Mike's story.
After recovering from the attack, Mike's fascination turned toward camera and he attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in California. It was here, with the aid of a prosthetic limb, that he transitioned into stand-up surfing. A natural athlete with a keen eye, Coots excelled both as a surfer and a lensmen. Eventually, he found his way home to Hawai'i where he began garnering praise for his compelling photos. Through his lens, we were able to see a majestic, vibrant side of the islands that only a local could capture. His work behind the camera became so in demand that he was tapped to shoot campaigns for top-shelf brands like The Four Seasons, the NFL, Sony Pictures, and Canon to name just a few.
Because Coots can't be pigeonholed, he's taken on another challenge: protecting the very creatures that nearly killed him. As an advocate to save sharks from overfishing, he has tirelessly worked to pass legislation to stem the staggering amount of sharks that are killed—mostly for their fins to make shark-fin soup—every year. Tragically, the Pew Environmental Group estimates that close to 100 million sharks are slaughtered every year for their fins. Let that number sink in for a moment: 100 million a year.
As an advocate for the protection of one of Mother Nature's apex predators, Coots has appeared on various international media outlets and lobbied Congress. "A lot of people ask me if I ever had any resentment towards sharks. And no, I've never once felt like that. I love the ocean, and they're a big part of that world." Eventually, the fruits of his labor began to form and in 2010, in large thanks to Coots's and other shark-attack survivors' efforts, then President Obama passed new legislation meant to deter shark-finning on America's coastal waters.
"We worked very hard to get that bill passed," recalls Coots. "If being a shark-attack survivor helps pass these laws, then that's fine with me."
Not to be outdone in the water, as an amputee surfer, Coots continues to redefine what's considered "possible." From his homebase on Kaua'i, he often travels to Oahu's North Shore to both surf and shoot photos of surfing's most esteemed lineups. In recent years, Coots has taken to shooting photos of himself in the barrel. Using a GoPro camera mounted to the tail of his Soft Top surfboard, Coots provided a unique perspective of azure tuberides, all the while a metal/plastic prosthetic stands neatly poised in the foreground. As a surfer this image itself is noteworthy. Considering he did it all with the help of an artificial leg is jaw-dropping. To take his adventures to the next level, when he's not capturing astounding surf images, he's often diving with sharks. He takes gut-wrenching photos captured mere inches from the jaws of the same animal that took his leg, making for the stuff of legends.
Whether it's as a waterman, photographer, or shark-protection advocate, Coots has always found a way to excel. His bravery, composure, and vibrant sense of aloha capture the best of the human spirit. If the rest of us could see the world through his lens, there's a good chance the world would be a much rosier place.
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