James Archibald / Cape Town, July 20 () - Threetime world champion surfer Mick Fanning narrowly escaped an attack from a great white shark while in the final stage of the JBay Open competition in South Africa on Sunday afternoon.
The Australian surfer was preparing to catch his first wave of the final heat when the
shark attacked, knocking him off his board and biting through his leash before the water rescue team managed to pull him out the water.
In dramatic video footage that has gone viral on YouTube, a large shark fin is seen popping out of the water and rising higher than Fanning's own head. Fanning is seen turning around to face the predator and kicking furiously as he is knocked off his board before a wave rose up to hide him from vision for several seconds as commentators reacted with shock.
Fellow finalist Julian Wilson saw the incident from close up, paddling furiously to come to his countryman's aid before also being picked up by the rescue crew.
Speaking about the incident to the World Surf League, Fanning said: “I just had this
instinct that something was behind me. And then all of a sudden, I felt like I started getting pulled under water. Then the [shark] came up, and I was on my board and it was like right there, and I saw the whole thing thrashing around."
“I was getting dragged under by my leg [rope], and then I felt like it kicked me off, but it was still there, and I was still attached to my board. I felt like it was dragging me under water, and then my leg rope broke, and I started swimming and screaming.”
Expressing relief at his narrow escape, he added: “I just can’t believe it. I’m just tripping ... To walk away from that, I’m just so stoked.”
Following the attack, which was a first for a professional surfing competition, Fanning and Wilson agreed to both take second place and split the prize money rather than return to the dangerous water, where it was believed there was also a second shark.
The World Surf League issued the following statement: "We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today. 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 they are truly world class at what they do.
“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."