Before heading back to California, Shiloh Shahan was ready to take a leap of faith.
The 21-year-old, who was born in Templeton and has family in Atascadero, said he wanted to make the most of his last few days on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where he had lived and worked for about a year and a half.
On Sept. 1, he and a friend decided to visit the breathtaking Wailua Falls just north of the town of Lihue. As he stood high above the water below, Shahan said he stopped to reflect about where his life would lead once he returned to the mainland.
And then he jumped.
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“I decided, ‘I want to jump off of this,’ ” he said in a phone interview from Atascadero on Saturday. “I was at a really pivotal point in my life. Everything was changing, and it felt like the right thing to do.”
The “right thing to do” also was arguably a scary one.
His friend captured video of the jump, which has been viewed more than 70,000 times on YouTube.
In the video, Shahan gets a brief running start before propelling himself into the air and over the falls. He plummets for a couple of seconds before hitting the water. After a few moments, you can spot two tourists below swimming toward what appears to be Shahan’s limp, floating body.
The friend filming can be heard saying, “Wake up!”
Shahan said he lost consciousness when he hit the water, and the two tourists saved his life by pulling him to shore.
“I really want to give credit to them for my safety,” Shahan said. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to survive.”
Shahan said he suffered a concussion and tore some chest and back muscles, but was able to leave the area under his own power.
“I was still able to walk around. I was just stiff,” he said.
Wailua Falls tower either 80 or 173 feet above the water, depending on your source. (Believe it or not, there’s actually a rather wide disagreement over the height of the falls.)
Shahan said he didn’t think the drop was far enough to severely hurt him, and he read that other people had made the plunge and lived. He added that if he had used better technique — tucked arms and chin instead of flailing — he would have suffered fewer injuries. He said he’s jumped from cliffs that were about 60 feet high in the past.
“If I had jumped correctly, I probably would have been fine,” Shahan said.
As he was leaving the area, Shahan said he spoke to paramedics and police who had been dispatched to the scene. He said a police officer asked him if he was trying to commit suicide.
“I told them, no, it was a calling,” Shahan said. “The cop asked me, ‘So it was something spiritual then?’ I said, ‘Yes. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.’ ”
Some online commenters, however, were not amused by Shahan’s jump.
“As a rock climber I understand you completely my friend,” one commenter wrote, “but take it easy from now on and take calculated risks and don’t gamble your life like this again you got a whole life ahead of you.”
“You’re so lucky you didn’t die doing that,” another wrote. “Things like that is why spots for tourists get closed but even worse for us locals who don’t get to go anymore because someone has an accident or worse has to be a hero. You came out with some injuries and you’re lucky with just that. I hope you never do this again for your sake and for us locals who won’t be able to go next time someone decides to jump off wailua falls and isn’t so lucky.”
Another comment read, “You put the people at risk who had to swim out and get you, you incurred expense to the state, and now you are on here defending it and saying you would do it again. You wanted a viral video. Let’s just be honest.”
Shahan, however, reiterated that he meant no disrespect and that he actually never intended for so many people to see the video.
“It was never my plan for the jump to go viral,” he said. “It just put it on YouTube because it wouldn’t upload to Facebook, and I just wanted my friends and family to see it.”
Now that he’s back in California, Shahan said his plan was to pursue a dream he’s been concocting for several years: Raising funds and promoting plans to build educational amusement parks for children.
He said he’ll travel to Los Angeles and possibly Las Vegas to campaign for his idea, but he added he has no problem “going with the wind” in his next pursuit.