Tuesday 20 March 2018

Shark attack surfer Mick Fanning back home 'without a scratch'

Mick Fanning moments before he was knocked off his board by a shark (World Surf League/AP)
Mick Fanning moments before he was knocked off his board by a shark (World Surf League/AP)

A surfer who fought off a shark with his bare hands during a competition in South Africa has returned home to Australia "without a scratch on me".

Mick Fanning, 34, appeared at a news conference in Sydney today before heading home to the Gold Coast with a story he will be telling for the rest of his life.

"It was so close. I'm doing okay, though," he said. "I haven't got a scratch on me. Just more of an emotional, mental sort of trauma right now.

"To walk away from a shark attack with not a scratch on you - it is a miracle really."

Fanning was competing against fellow Aussie Julian Wilson in the final of the JBay Open, the World Surf League event at Jeffreys Bay on South Africa's east coast, when he was bumped off his board by a shark.

In video of the event posted on the World Surf League website, Fanning could be seen scanning the water before a big fin emerged behind him. He turned to deal with the shark, and then lost his board as a wave rolled in and he disappeared from view.

Wilson was paddling towards Fanning and later said that he believed if he could get there with his board, he would at least have a weapon to distract the shark, which he estimated was at least twice the size of Fanning.

Fanning said at first he tried to swim away but then decided to defend himself, and turned to punch the shark in the back. He was next seen furiously swimming towards a boat, where he was helped out of the water and back to shore.

He recounted the events immediately to fans gathered around him on the beach, and only later, when the adrenalin subsided, did the tears kick in as he realised just how close he had come to serious injury or death.

Today, he said he felt so "insignificant" compared with the size and speed of the shark, but did not hold any grudges against the predator because he knew "we are in their domain".

"Thanks for not eating me," he said, joking about his interaction with the shark.

Fanning said he could sense the shark looming behind him, and turned to see it just as contact was made.

"I thought 'Let's see what happens'. Like anything, you want to go down fighting," he said.

"I don't know why it didn't bite. I was on top of it, trying to put my board between us. It was just flight or fight, I just ran on instinct. Once my board was gone, I thought that was it. I was just waiting for it to come and take a leg or two. I guess I'm lucky it wasn't my time."

Fanning said he definitely plans to return to surfing, though he does not know when. He also plans to again travel to JBay, an area he considers among the three most beautiful places in the world.

Wilson has been nominated for a bravery award by the Queensland state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Fanning agreed Wilson's support, and the quick reaction of the rescue boats and other watercraft, helped him out of danger.

"He just gave all regard up for himself, and came for me," Fanning said. "He was so brave... like a warrior. Thanks bud."

Press Association

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