Johannesburg: An Australian surfing champion fought back against a shark attack on live television during a competition in South Africa today, 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 in the water 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 taken out of the water by safety crews in nearby rescue boats, 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.
The WSL issued a statement saying that the competition was cancelled after discussions with both surfers. “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.
Craig Lambinon, spokesman for the National Sea Rescue Institute, told ENCA television news: “We believe it is probably the first time that an incident like this at a surfing competition has been caught on camera.
“The NSRI is urging bathers and surfers to be cautious in the area. “It is a person’s own prudence that they exercise in entering the water. We know that there are sharks in the sea, and we are really going into their environment.”