Australian surfer Mick Fanning has survived a shark attack during last night’s World Surf League (WSL) final at J-Bay last night.
Just four minutes into the 40-minute final against fellow Australian Julian Wilson, a large shark was seen on live TV feeds approaching the unsuspecting Fanning before the surfer was knocked off his board. Fanning was seen fighting the shark off before a wave obscured the action. Next he could be seen swimming towards shore away from the shark with Wilson frantically paddling towards him in support before the South African Surf Safety Response Team pulled both surfers onto their boat.
The horrific scene was broadcast live on Fox and the World Surf League’s YouTube streaming service and caused a social media frenzy with images and video of the attack being streamed worldwide. Among the viewers was Fanning’s mother, who had stayed up to watch the final.
Neither surfer was hurt in the encounter. Fanning had a minor pressure ding on his board and his leg rope was chewed through by the shark. There have been unconfirmed reports of two sharks being involved in the incident, but the size of the sharks has not yet been confirmed.
It was the first time a surfer has been attacked by a shark during competition. Both finalists were clearly shaken by the incident although Fanning was quick to play down the attack.
“I’m totally fine,” Fanning told WSL analyst Ronnie Blakey. “I was just about to start moving and get going and start paddling again, and then all of a sudden I just had this instinct that something was behind me, and then all of a sudden I started getting pulled underwater and then the thing came up and I was on my board and it was right there.
“I saw the whole thing just thrashing around but I was getting dragged under by my leg rope. I felt like it kicked me off but it was still there going and I was still attached to my board and I punched it a couple of times and it was just dragging me underwater and all of a sudden my leg rope broke and I just started swimming and screaming.”
“I was yelling at Jules (Wilson) to move as well but he was coming at me. Then I was swimming in and I just turned around and I had this thought, ‘What happens if it comes and has another go at me?’ So I turned around so I could at least see it coming and then before I knew it the boat was there, the jet skis were there and we were in safety. I just can’t believe it. I’m just tripping out.”
Wilson was further down the point after riding the only wave of the final and said a shark attack was “the furthest thing” from his mind.
“It’s sunny, the waves are pumping, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon,” he told an interviewer. “In that moment it was the furthest thing from my mind. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
“After my opening wave I was paddling back out and looking right at Mick. I saw the whole thing go down. I started paddling as hard as I could to get to him, figuring I had my board and I could stab the shark or use it as some kind of weapon.”
The WSL cancelled the event, with both the ratings points and prize money being split between Fanning and Wilson, saying the athletes’ safety was paramount. Fanning was content to abandon the event, telling media “Mate, I’m happy to not even compete ever again.”
Fanning moved to number two in this year’s rankings; Wilson, moves up to three. The WSL tour moves to Teahupo’o in Tahiti for the next event in August. – Jackson Barron
Top screenshot from the World Surf League’s live stream.