A shaken Mick Fanning has said he would be happy to never compete again after being attacked by a shark at the J-Bay Open surf competition in South Africa.
The World Surf League (WSL) event at Jeffreys Bay has been abandoned following Sunday’s incident, which was broadcast live.
Fanning, 34, was facing fellow Australian Julian Wilson in the event’s final when he was forced to fight off the great white, which pulled him under water and bit through the leg rope of his surf board.
He is locked in a world title battle with Wilson, but competition was the bottom of his priority list following the incident. “I’m happy to not even compete ever again. Seriously, to walk away from that, I’m just so stoked.”
He escaped without a scratch, but dramatic video footage showed just how close the incident could have been to a tragedy.
He described the moment he realised the shark was behind him as terrifying, saying: “I was waiting for the teeth to come at me. It came up and got stuck in my leg rope. I instantly just jumped away. It kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming. I just saw fins. I punched it in the back.”
Kiwi surfer Ricardo Christie, who was also competing at the event, said the incident was a huge reminder of the environment their sport takes place in.
“So rattled with what went down today. So grateful you guys are ok,” Christie wrote on Facebook.
“Huge reminder for everyone where our arena sits. The ocean ain’t no tennis court that’s for sure and we are all aware of that. We always know the possibility of this happening as we know these powerful creatures are there, watching our feet from below.”
Christie, who was eliminated in the second round by former world champion Joel Parkinson, added: “Many people have been taken but we always push the fear aside as our love for surfing and our ocean is greater than the risk of this nightmare occurring in our own bubble. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, let alone one of the greatest human beings on earth.”
Footage, released by the World Surf League (WSL), which organises the event, shows the shark’s fin emerge from the water before following Mr Fanning as he paddled out of the shallows.
Fanning can be seen being knocked off his board before he attempts to use it as a shield to stop the shark biting him. The clips ends with him being hauled into a rescue boat by officials and brought back to the shore.
Fanning’s mother was one of those who saw the footage. She “just wanted to grab him through the television screen” when she saw the shark attack, the surfer’s Kiwi cousin says.
Mark Osborne, who was National’s candidate in the recent Northland byelection, said he had contacted his aunty – Fanning’s mother, who lives in Australia.
“Obviously it was a pretty close call, and we are all just very, very pleased that Mick has come through it alright. It’s pretty frightening stuff,” Mr Osborne told the Herald.
“My aunty said…she just wanted to grab him through the television screen because she is not there in South Africa.”
Mr Osborne said he and his children normally watched his cousin’s competitions, but time differences meant he didn’t see the incident live. He had since watched videos of the attack.
“It was very hard to watch, I can tell you…it certainly gave me chills…just to see your cousin fight off a shark, and to see him come out and get on that jetski intact, was, I can tell you, a hell of a relief.”
Mr Osborne said his cousin was an incredibly strong person, but judging from the interviews he had seen was shaken from the shark attack.
“It is something that he will need to reflect on. But he is an incredibly strong, mentally strong person to achieve the things that he has.
“Some years ago his brother passed away, and for him to come back from the trauma of that. And his own injury where he ripped his hamstring off the bone, to come back and win a world title straight after that. He is incredibly strong and driven.”
Wilson, who was competing with Fanning in the water, said he thought his Australian compatriot was going to be taken under by the shark.
“I’m just happy that he’s alive. I literally thought, as bailing for him, that I wasn’t going to get there in time. Especially when I came over the wave, his board was over here and he was swimming the other way, I was like ‘oh no it’s going to just grab him and take him under’,” Wilson said.
“I was thinking ‘I’ve got a board I can stab it or whatever. I’ve got a weapon'”.
The support boats got there in time to save both surfers.
– NZ Herald/AP/Daily Mail