STUART — The shark attack that killed Stephen Schafer a year ago is still fresh in the minds of friends, family and countless others who venture into the waters off the Treasure Coast and beyond.
Schafer was killed Feb. 3, 2010, after he was bitten by a shark while kiteboarding off of Stuart Beach. It was the first-ever fatal shark attack in Martin County and the first on the Treasure Coast since Nov. 21, 1998, in Vero Beach.
“It seems like it was yesterday,” said Stephanie Forsberg of Stuart, a long-time friend of Schafer’s who helped lead memorial efforts. “I can’t believe it’s been a year.”
Forsberg said she struck up a conversation with a kiteboarder in Miami recently “and he knew about Stephen and what had happened. Here he was, a perfect stranger, and he knew.”
A planned segment on Schafer’s death to be televised during the Discovery Channel’s popular "Shark Week" would have brought more attention to the incident. But producers agreed to drop the piece after Schafer’s friends and family “bombarded them with calls and e-mails” saying it was too soon for a graphic re-enactment of the tragedy, Forsberg said.
Jordan Schwartz, owner of Ohana Surf Shop on Hutchinson Island near Stuart Beach, said tourists “from all over stop in and ask us about (the fatal attack).”
Schafer was well known and well liked in the local surfing and kite-boarding community, Jordan said.
“Steve was a great guy,” he said. “Everybody loved him. And surfers, we still think about him and about what happened. But it’s not something that’s going to keep us out of the water. If surfing or kite-boarding is you’re passion, you don’t stop.”
Schwartz said he was at Stuart Beach recently when lifeguards warned surfers that spinner sharks had been seen jumping in the area.
“It goes with the territory,” Schwartz said. “Of course, it’s good to know the lifeguards have got your back.
When Schafer was attacked, Martin County lifeguard Daniel Lund paddled a surfboard-like rescue board into still-shark-infested water in a rescue attempt. Schafer lost consciousness on the way back to shore and later was pronounced dead at the Martin Memorial Medical Center emergency room.
In the aftermath of Schafer’s death, Lund was lauded as a hero. There were concerns that lifeguards needed more and better equipment to do their jobs.
Martin County Fire Rescue Chief Joe Ferrara said two “older but serviceable” personal watercraft were donated to the department soon after Schafer’s death. One has been assigned to Stuart Beach, near the site of Schafer’s attack. The other is destined for Hobe Sound Beach.
“We have the equipment we need,” Ferrara said. “We have ATVs, we have rescue boards and we have personal watercraft.”
Ferrara added that despite ever-tightening budgets, “we’re funded for the personnel we need.”
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