An Australian surfing champion fought back against a shark attack during a televised competition in South Africa on Sunday, escaping from the terrifying scene without injury. Mick Fanning, 34, was competing in the final heat of a world tour event at Jeffreys Bay in the country’s Eastern Cape province when a looming black fin appeared behind him.
In a churn of water and spray, Fanning could be seen battling to fend off the shark.
“It came up and got stuck in my leg rope,” he said in a television interview afterwards.
“I was kicking and screaming. I just saw a fin. I didn’t see teeth. I was waiting for the teeth to come at me as I was swimming. I punched it in the back.”
Fanning, a triple world champion nicknamed “White Lightning”, was sitting on his board in the water when the shark lunged at him, tipping him off the board.
He was pulled from the water by a nearby rescue jet-ski that rushed to his aid, and said he had only lost his board leash.
The World Surf League (WSL), which organised the J-Bay Open, said two sharks were spotted in the water near Fanning and his rival Julian Wilson, also from Australia.
“We were all watching and then all of a sudden you could see the fin so we knew it was a shark,” spectator Kaylee Smit told the News24 website.
“We could see the splashing and he was knocked off his board.
“I thought this guy was going to die in front of us.
“The whole crowd rose to their feet in complete silence and then that was broken by the announcer screaming over the information system for people to get out of the water. I am still in shock and I am shaking,” Smit said.
– ‘Heroic’ –
The WSL issued a statement saying that the competition was cancelled after discussions with both surfers, who agreed to share the winner’s prize money.
“Mick’s composure and quick acting in the face of a terrifying situation was nothing short of heroic and the rapid response of our Water Safety personnel was commendable,” it said.