World No.1 Mick Fanning was involved in a dramatic surf rescue at Hawaii’s North Shore after American competitor Evan Geiselman nearly drowned.
The drama happened two days before the start of the event that will decide whether the Australian wins his fourth world surfing title.
Geiselman was hospitalised after he wiped out at the Pipeline break, but should make a full recovery.
Fanning was on the shore at the time of the accident and ran over to help.
It continues a tumultuous year for Fanning, who was attacked by a shark in July during the final of a world surfing league final in South Africa.
Fanning punched the shark and friend Julian Wilson, also his opponent in the final, paddled over to help.
Reports on Sunday said South African bodyboarder Andre Botha was the first to reach Geiselman.
Surfing website theinertia.com quoted Dashel Pierson as saying that Geiselman was floating face-down in the water when Botha reached him.
“He was lying eyes closed gasping for air like a fish out of water on the beach … it was a really scary moment,” Pierson said.
Fanning and North Shore lifeguards helped carry Geiselman out of the water.
Geiselman’s friend Eric Tomlinson later emailed theinertia from Queens Hospital, saying the stricken surfer was in stable condition.
Tomlinson said Geiselman failed to come to the surface after being engulfed by a four-plus metre wave.
He said Botha found him unconscious and started rescue breathing while bringing him to shore.
“In the heavy shorebreak they were met by lifeguards, as well as surfers (including) Mick Fanning … and a handful of others,” Tomlinson said.
“After expelling copious amounts of water Evan regained consciousness.
“Because of the heroic efforts of everyone that came to Evan’s aid he is expected to recover from this near tragedy.”
Fanning leads a tight world championship race heading into the Pipeline Masters.
Five other surfers, including Wilson, are in contention.
Also on Sunday, Australian big wave surfer Mark Mathews was taken to hospital with an injured shoulder after a big wipeout before his opening round heat of the WSL’s Big Wave Tour event at the Maui break of Jaws.