A Matter of Perspective

A Matter of Perspective

Surfer, photographer, amputee, shark advocate,
and Good Samaritan Mike Coots

Photos: Dane Grady
Words: Garrett Leight

What if I told you there’s a guy who lost his leg to a shark attack and says it’s the best thing that ever happened to him? I guess it would just prove that life is simply a matter of perspective. Meet Mike Coots, a 35-year-old Kauai born surfer, photographer, and all around Good Samaritan. In 1997, at the tender age of 17, Mike lost his leg in a shark attack on the North Shore of Kauai while surfing with his buddy at his favorite surf spot. However, recounting the incident with him and his life ever since, tragic is not a word that comes to mind. When asked about a picture I found of him in the hospital the day after the incident with a huge smile on his face, Mike simply says, “I was just so happy and grateful to be alive.” He is the kind of guy who was back out in the lineup six weeks later at the same surf break. “My friends love surfing with me now because they know that it’s near impossible they’ll get bit by a shark.”


Mike’s positive mentality is something that is glaringly present, and it’s why he is a great source of inspiration for many. Thanks to modern technology and social media, Mike was able to discover an audience via Instagram, often using his Gopro to capture his surf sessions from a unique and original perspective. When he realized there was an opportunity to help a community of amputees, he realized he had found his calling. Six years ago, Bethany Hamilton (legendary surfer and fellow survivor of a shark attack) and Mike Coots began a non-profit whose mission is solely to help fellow amputees. Much of their success and ability to reach an interested audience belongs to social media and its ability to reach people quickly. “My shots were inspiring people, and I started getting emails from people who wanted me to reach out to their cousins, brothers, or whoever and just give them inspiration.” Mike explains that when you become an amputee often times you’re told you can’t do certain things, but he feels that it’s just a liability thing from the practitioner or the manufacturer. “I think its B.S. I say go for it. If there’s something you want to do, if you want to be a golfer or ride dirt bikes with your prosthetic, go ahead and do it.”


Mike cites the most powerful experience in his life as when he had the distinct privilege to be able to travel to Boston after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. “Getting bit by the shark and going through what I went through was all worth it. Just to have a little moment of being able to inspire people at a crazy time like that was life changing.” Whether his view is through the lens of a camera or from the inside of a perfect barrel, his perspective remains the same: passionate, positive and focused. When I asked if being Hawaiian had anything to do with his desire to get back in the water and live a life that he was used to, Mike simply responds, “Yes, water equals fun, and happiness is in the water.”

A moment of being able to inspire people at a crazy time like that was life changing.

Mike’s journey and this unique path have infused a passion in him that may have never otherwise been discovered, which appears might end up being a great thing for mankind. When asked about his goals and dreams in life, Mike is direct, “3D printing and public speaking.” His goal is to get a team together to create a company that makes prosthetic parts in minutes for people that need it, as well as, of course, to continue to help people in need by sharing his story with amputees who need a little bit of Mike’s positive vibrations. And last but not least, for my own personal satisfaction, I had to ask him which surf break he most wished to surf, he said “Great Question. Skeleton Bay in Namibia, a long left in the desert.” Sounds pretty righteous.

Follow Mike and support the cause @mikecoots