Australian surfing champion Mick Fanning has survived a terrifying shark attack, broadcast live on television.
Mick was surfing in the final a world tour event in South Africa when the shark stormed toward him, forcing the champion to fight for his life. Horrified spectators gasped as a fin that seemed taller than Mick himself sliced through the water toward him.
The two-time world champion - said he “saw fins” and was “waiting for the teeth” to come toward him when he started pounding the shark with his fist.
Fellow Australian surfer Julian Wilson, who was also in the water, became an instant hero when he turned his board toward Mick and immediately began paddling toward the stricken champion.
Wilson said: “It was pretty spooky. I saw the whole thing pop up behind him. It came up and he was wrestling it. I saw him get knocked off his board and then a little wave popped up and I thought ‘he’s gone, he’s gone under’. I felt like I couldn’t get there quick enough,” Wilson said. “I’m just happy he’s alive.”
Mick thanked Wilson for his automatic reaction to come help: “What a legend, coming after me.”
Two jet skis and the tournament water safety craft roared toward two men, to try to get them out of the water.
A shaken Mick could be seen resting his head in a prayerful pose on his surfboard.
He later has his head in his hands.
The all-round nice guy from Queensland’s Gold Coast told reporters knew he exactly how close he had come to a calamity, saying he punched his way to safety.
“It came up and got stuck in my leg rope,” he said, “I instantly jumped away. It kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming.
“I just saw fins. I didn’t see teeth. I was waiting for the teeth to come at me.
“I punched it in the back.”
Fighting back tears of relief and adrenalin, Mick said: “I was just about to start paddling again and all of a sudden I had this instinct that something was behind me. Then I started getting pulled under water and the thing came up and I was on my board and it was right there and I saw the whole thing, it was right there. I was getting dragged under by my leg rope,” he said.
“I felt like it was dragging me under water and then my leg rope broke so I started swimming and screaming ... I just can’t believe it, I’m just tripping out.”
The event was cancelled for the day.
Asked if he felt capable of finishing the event tomorrow, Mick said: “Mate, I’m happy to not even compete again. To walk away from that, I’m just so stoked.”
The event was subsequently cancelled. Mick and Wilson will split the prize money and competition points for first place – and likely be friends for life.
Mick is managed by his Mum, Liz. His brother, Sean, died in a car accident when Mick was younger. They had both been at a party, and while Mick elected to walk home, Sean got a lift and died when the car crashed.
Mick has long said that he believes that Sean watches over him in the water.