Emotional scenes went down in J-Bay yesterday. Just into the beginning of the final heat of the sixth event of the World Surf League’s Men’s Championship Tour at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa pro surfer and three-time world champion Mick Fanning got attacked by what seems to have been a great white shark. Fanning, who hadn’t even surfed a single wave in the heat at that point, miraculously came out of the attack unharmed.
Here’s how Mick himself recounts the events (from minute 12:26 in the video below):
“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 broke 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.”
Everybody was obviously very shaken up by what happened. Upon realizing what was just going down in the lineup the crowds on the beach started screaming, boats were rushing in and the heat was immediatly being called off. “I’m tripping out right now. I just saw the footage of the attack”, Fanning said later on being asked to give an account of the events.
Julian Wilson and Mick Fanning giving each other support
An immediate shark attack is something that has never happened in the history of competitive surfing before. While surfers know about the general danger sharks pose, many of them have even had sightings in the water, a direct attack like this one is a terrifying event, not just for the victim himself, but for everybody involved. “Holy shit!” was the first reaction that came from the commentator booth upon seeing Mick being dragged under water just moments after a fin appeared right next to him. Joel Parkinson, having left the event in round three, was watching the life webcast and immediatly headed to the event site after seeing what took place. Kelly Slater had just come out of the water and was giving autographs to kids on the beach when he saw the boats rushing into the lineup. “There’s just one possible reason this would ever happen in a contest”, he says in his interview at the 22:50 minute mark, “somebody got whacked by a shark.” So he rushed on to the beach to get more information. At this point no one even knew the outcome of the attack, so seeing Mick jump on a jetski moments later, miraculously unharmed, all limbs still attached was met with great relief.
Julian Wilson, a good friend of Mick’s and fellow competitor on the tour, was in the water with him when the attack happened. Instead of paddling away to get himself to safety, upon seeing Mick swim towards the shore without his surfboard, he paddled straight up to him in order to help his friend. The pure emotional devastation of this moment that Julian must have felt can be seen in his reaction from the 17:30 minute mark on. “I felt like I couldn’t get there quick engough”, he says in tears. To have one’s instincts kick in like that and put oneself into danger in order to rescue a friend is an extremely heroic thing to to.
WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow later also praised Wilson as well as the the rescue team’s effort (from min. 37:18):
“Just total shock. Everyone was just scrambling. It was really an incredible effort on all parts, everyone really came together like a team. That’s what we’re here for, it’s a well-oiled machine. Watching Julian paddling towards Mick was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. It was so heroic, he put his life at risk as he knew that Mick was in an extreme amount of danger. You could see the emotion in his interview. I think everyone is just hugely emotionally affected right now. It’ll stick with us for a long time.”
The commissioner’s office later announced that the competition was canceled, meaning there would be no second take on the final heat. Whether or not and how the points and money will be split was in the heat of the moment not of concern for Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson though. “Man, I’m happy to not even compete ever again. To walk away from that…I’m just so stoked”, Fanning says in his interview, even prior to the decision.
We at Atlantik Surf
are incredibly grateful that things turned out the way they did and everybody was left, at least physically, unharmed.