Fanning fends off shark on live TV
IT WAS like a scene from the movies. A surfer paddles out to ride his first wave when, suddenly, a large fin appears right next to him.
Except that this was no movie. It was live footage of Australian surfing champion Mick Fanning being attacked by a shark during a competition in South Africa.
Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale, which has since gone viral.
The 34-year-old was competing in the final heat of a world tour event at Jeffreys Bay in the country's Eastern Cape province on Sunday when a looming black fin appeared behind him and knocked him off his board.
Amid churning water and spray, he battled to fend off the shark.
After it apparently swam away, the shaken three-time world champion made a dash for the beach - sans surfboard - and was picked up by a support craft.
"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, nicknamed White Lightning, lost his brother in a car crash almost 17 years ago and his terrified mother, watching the drama live on television in Australia, feared the worst.
"I was so scared. I just thought when that wave came through that he'd gone," mum Elizabeth Osborne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday.
Fanning was pulled from the water by a nearby rescue jet-ski that rushed to his aid, and he lost only 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, fellow Australian Julian Wilson.
"We were all watching and then, all of a sudden, you could see the fin," 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."
WSL cancelled the competition 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.
Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater was on the beach when the attack happened.
"I'm lost for words, to be honest. We almost just watched our friend get eaten by a shark and I'm just blown away that there's no (injury) at all," he told reporters.
South Africa's waters are among the most shark-infested in the world. A swimmer was killed by a great white shark at Albatross Point, close to Jeffrey's Bay, in 2013.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS