Australian Mick Fanning has not only visited, but surfed, the South African waves where a shark attacked him last year.
The three-time world champion rode the waves of Jeffreys Bay on Tuesday as a warm up for the J-Bay Open — the same bay and same event where he famously battled a shark on live television.
“I had so many great memories here and I just wanted to get back here and surf,” Fanning told reporters on Tuesday.
But he admitted that he was nervous.
“I went out and had a look and a little bit of anxiety came up and a few different emotions, but once I got the wetsuit on and got the board ready and paddled out it was pretty much fine,” he said after his ride, the ABC reported.
“Once you catch that first wave and you realise that it was just a one-off incident, hopefully, then you just get on with it and you just go surfing again.”
A video posted by Mick Fanning (@mfanno) on
Fanning’s harrowing experience has been watched more than 23 million times on YouTube.
It came in a year in which his older brother, Peter, passed away, and which saw the end of his relationship with ex-wife Karissa.
Fanning has taken a ‘personal year’ in 2016, only competing in select events, but his desire to return to J-Bay was well-publicised and expected.
Before getting back in the shark-infested bay, he said it would be emotionally “tricky”.
“The first surf is going to be a little bit tricky to get through my head,” Fanning said in a statement distributed by the World Surf League.
“I’ve surfed lots of different places and have seen sharks since then and haven’t felt too concerned. It’s all part of surfing.
“We’re not going to go out and put a cage around J-Bay.”
The 35-year-old has competed in two WSL events in Australia this year, at Snapper Rocks in Queensland and Bells Beach in Victoria.
“We want to surf the wave and keeping everyone safe is a collective thing between the WSL and the surfers,” Fanning said.
“When I decided I was only going to do a few events this season, J-Bay was always on the cards.
“Even if I decided I didn’t want to surf in the J-Bay Open, I was always going to go back.
“I’ve had so many great memories there that to leave J-Bay on the note from last year just didn’t seem right.
“I want to go back and right the wrongs and move forward.”
Watch the original attack here:
New safety measures introduced
In a bid to ensure competitor safety, the World Surf League said it has “enhanced its surveillance and responsible capabilities for this season’s event with additional water patrols in the lineup”.
“[The WSL] is augmenting with emerging sonar technologies to increase information available to event officials,” it said in a statement.
The organisation is desperate to avoid a repeat of last year and Fanning said it had done as much as was possible.
“I trust the WSL and the measures they’ve put in place,” Fanning said in the statement.
“It is, however, one of those things where it is the ocean and, ultimately, there is not a lot anyone can do.”
Fanning is seeded for his first heat scheduled for Round 1 on 6 July, where he will face American Conner Coffin and Brazilian Alejo Muniz.
Australian Julian Wilson, who swam to Fanning’s aid during last year’s attack, will take on American duo Nat Young and Jack Freestone in Heat 11.
Aussie Matt Wilkinson leads the way in the race for the 2016 world title, comfortably ahead of Brazilian Gabriel Medina.
Defending champion Adriano De Souza, who pipped Fanning for last year’s crown, sits fifth.