A shaken and overwrought Australian surfing champion Mick Fanning says he’d be happy to never compete again after being attacked by a shark at the J-Bay Open event in South Africa.
The horrifying incident was broadcast live and the footage showed Fanning was “kicking and screaming” as the shark approached him from behind and launched a surprise ambush.
Miraculously, the 34-year-old escaped without a scratch after being loaded onto a jet-ski, then a rescue boat.
The World Surf League (WSL) event at Jeffreys Bay was abandoned following Sunday’s incident.
Fanning was facing fellow Australian Julian Wilson in the event’s final when he was forced to fight off the great white.
The shark’s fin is seen approaching Fanning before the shark knocks the surfer from his board.
“I was waiting for the teeth,” Fanning said.
“I was about to start paddling again and I had this instinct that someone was behind me.
“I saw the whole thing just thrashing around … I punched it a couple of times, but I felt like it was dragging me under water.
“Then all of a sudden my leg rope broke and I was swimming and screaming.”
Water patrol crews sped towards Fanning as he frantically swam for the shore.
“I was swimming in and I had this thought “what if comes for another go at me”, so I turned around, so I could at least see it, and before I knew it the boat was there, the jet-skis were there.
“I just can’t believe it. ”
Fanning is locked in a world title battle with Wilson, but competition was at the bottom of his priority list following the incident.
“I’m happy to not even compete ever again,” he said.
“Seriously, to walk away from that, I’m just so stoked.”
— Julian Wilson (@julian_wilson) July 19, 2015
Mick Fanning’s manager recalled chilling shrieks of spectators watching as the shark launched itself at the three-time world champion. He also described the harrowing belief he was watching his friend die.
“You had a huge crowd on the beach. Everyone just letting out shrieks and screams as the shark basically took Mick underwater at one point,” Fanning’s manager Ronnie Blakey told Triple M.
“We really just didn’t know what was unfolding. Everyone was kinda guessing what was happening.”
Watching from the shore, Blakey said he believed Fanning wouldn’t survive.
“I was thinking we’re watching a three-time world champion die. That was the reality of the situation. At worst I thought if he isn’t dead maybe he’s lost a limb.”
Blakey believed Fanning would still compete in the next leg of the WSL tour in Tahiti next month.
Wilson, who paddled towards Fanning when he saw the attack, was also emotional afterwards, saying through tears that he felt like he couldn’t get to Fanning quick enough.
“It came up and he was wrestling it, and I saw he got knocked off his board,” Wilson said. “I was like ‘I’ve got a board, if I can get there I can stab it or whatever, I’ve got a weapon’.”
A mother’s worst fear
Fanning’s mother said she couldn’t sleep after watching the attack live on television.
“I was absolutely terrified. Absolutely terrified. I thought we’d lost him,” an relieved Elizabeth Osborne said on Monday morning.
“It seemed like about half an hour. I just couldn’t imagine him coming out of it, you know? It was like slow motion.”
“I just thought when that wave came that he’d gone, but then everything was alright and I was just so thankful and so proud of Mick and so grateful to the universe that he didn’t have a leg missing or anything.”
The WSL announced shortly after the incident that the competition would not continue.
“The safety of our athletes is a priority for the WSL and, after discussions with both finalists, we have decided to cancel the remainder of competition at the J-Bay Open,” a statement from the tournament organisers read.
WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow said he wasn’t aware of any other professional surf competitions in which a competitor had being attacked. “It’s something that I don’t think we’ll ever see again, hopefully, in this sport,” Perrow said.
“We’re just so happy to see (Fanning) still safe and alive. That could have been a really terrible outcome.”
Tweets and tributes
— Swatta (@WayneSchwass) July 19, 2015
— Stephanie Gilmore (@Steph_gilmore) July 19, 2015
— Sally Fitzgibbons (@Sally_Fitz) July 19, 2015
While you were asleep, Australia defeated England at Lord’s and Mick Fanning defeated a shark. pic.twitter.com/tiZtcgD8vt
— Titus O’Reily (@TitusOReily) July 19, 2015
– with AAP