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J-Bay Open Suspended After Surfer Mick Fanning Fights Off Shark Attack

Image via WSL video

Image via WSL video

On Sunday Australian surfer Mick Fanning experienced the worst nightmare of millions of ocean-phobes—the three-time world champion met the business end of two sharks off South Africa’s eastern Cape, and miraculously lived to tell the tale.

Fanning was paddling his board through shallow water when he first spotted a fin following alongside him. Within seconds he was knocked off his board, which he used as a shield after returning to the surface.

The harrowing event played out on live television, much to the horror of viewers everywhere. Though it lasted under 30 seconds, thanks in large part to a quick response by competitor Julian Wilson, who heroically rushed to Fanning’s aid.

It was clear from Fanning’s statement to Surfer Mag following the attack that the gravity of the moment was sinking in.

“I’m tripping out right now. I just saw the footage of the attack. I was just waiting for my opportunity in the heat and I knew Julian was down the point. I was just about to start paddling and I had this instinct that something was behind me. And then the shark came up from behind me and attacked. I got pulled under water and was being dragged under by my leg rope. Then it kicked me off and I punched it a couple of times. Then my leg rope break and I was just swimming. I was yelling at Julian to get away but he was coming towards me to help. What a legend. Then I was just readying myself for it to come at me again so I turned around, hoping I could at least see it coming. And then before I knew it the boat was there and I was safe.”

Fanning following the attack

Fanning following the attack

Wilson seemed equally stunned in the statement he gave:

“I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I saw the thing pop up behind him,” he said through broken tears. “I saw him wrestling it and saw him get knocked off his board. Then a little wave popped up and I couldn’t see him. I thought he’d gone under…it felt like I couldn’t get there quick enough. I literally thought that I wasn’t gonna get there in time. I thought ‘I’ve got a board. If I can get there in time I’ve got a weapon and I could stab the shark.’ Then he started screaming at me, we both started screaming, and then the boats came in [to help]…it’s all too much really.”

Given the circumstances, WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow immediately took action, suspending the J-Bay Open indefinitely. Jeffreys Bay is actually notorious for shark attacks, with the waters off South Africa known to be among the most shark-infested in the world.

In October 2013, a Great White killed J-Bay local Burgert van der Westhuizen during an early morning swim. Apparently witnesses first believed there two sharks were involved, but it was just an illusion created by “the distance between [the] tail and dorsal fins” of the massive fish.

With only one fin clearly visible during the attack on Fanning, there’s a chance that a single Great White, which can reach 20 feet in length and weigh up to 2,400 pounds, was actually responsible. Obviously it would have been difficult for Fanning and Wilson to fully assess the situation while fighting for their lives.

Image via WSL video

Image via WSL video

Either way though, whether it was one shark or two, an attack of this nature during a live event is still stunning and unprecedented. Fanning’s ability to maintain his composure, in addition to the quick response from rescuers, allowed him to escape the attack without injury.

Well that…and a little bit of luck.

Click here to see the full video of the incident and its aftermath on the WSL website.

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