It's been nine months since retired schoolteacher Steven Ely, who was a victim of a mass shooting in the Gaslamp Quarter last year, could catch a wave and he couldn't be more "stoked."
"I’m super happy, man!" Ely told NBC 7. "I’m super stoked! I made it back, man! I wasn’t sure I was going to live."
Ely was one of five people shot by a man wielding a homemade and untraceable "ghost gun" on April 22, 2021. Hotel valet Justice Boldin was killed.
Ely, who was in the Gaslamp to watch his musician son perform that night, was struck in the stomach. The bullet went through his pancreas. For the next several months, he went through a grueling recovery process — losing about 45 pounds at one point — and spent his 69th birthday in a hospital bed. The bullet is still lodged inside of him.
"My life changed dramatically, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it," Ely said.
But he did, and a week-and-a-half ago, he returned to the water.
"It was euphoric," Ely said. "I’ve always — I’ve surfed my whole life. I’ve been next to the ocean my whole life. It’s always been my backyard, my playground. The board picked up speed, the wind blew my hair back, and I just had that magical feeling."
More than 300 people donated to an online fundraiser to help Ely cover hospital bills. He sent each one a personal thank you note, saying he was astounded by all the generosity and support.
Travis Sarreshteh, the shooting suspect, was arrested after the incident. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and four counts of attempted murder. He is expected in court in March. If convicted, he faces more than 100 years to life in prison.