JULY 22 (Reuters) — A visibly shaken Mick Fanning arrived home in Australia on Tuesday (July 21) saying he would not turn his back on surfing despite needing a “miracle” to survive a shark attack off the coast of South Africa at the weekend.
The three-time world champion was paddling out to ride his first wave in the final of the World Surf League’s J-Bay Open on Sunday (July 19) when an unidentified species of shark knocked him off his board.
Fanning, 34, managed to fight off the circling predator with his fists before returning safely to shore, becoming an overnight international celebrity after video of the incident went viral around the world.
While admitting it would take him a while to process the incident — “maybe a week, maybe a month,” he said — Fanning was determined to get back on his board.
“It was so close. Yeah, I’m doing okay though, like haven’t got a scratch on me or, yeah, just sort of more an emotional, mental sort of trauma right now. It’ll probably take, I don’t know, a couple of weeks, months. I don’t know, I don’t know, how long it’s going to take. I’m just lucky I’ve got really good people around me and great friends to just pick me up,” he told a packed news conference near Sydney airport.
The camera that captured the incident was unsighted by a wave for the second part of the attack and Fanning tried to fill in the gaps.
“If you look at the footage closely, there’s more splashing as the wave goes down and that’s when it came back again for a second go at my board. Yeah, it was like, I felt so insignificant, the thing was so powerful and just moved so fast and I was just trying to maneuver my way around it. It wasn’t anything that I’ve thought about and present, before, it was just something I just ran on instinct and knew that I just had to try and get away from this thing. Once my board was gone I thought that was it. I was just waiting for it just to come and take a leg or two,” he said.
Fanning paid tribute to fellow surfer Julian Wilson, who was competing in the final against Fanning and paddled towards his compatriot when he saw the shark attack.
Wilson has been proposed for a bravery award by the Premier of his home state Queensland for his actions but he said all such accolades should go to Fanning.
“What I saw was just like a, such an amazing moment where, I froze still trying to assess the situation and Mick turned and fought in that split moment. To be honest, it could be the thing that gave me the courage to just head for him. You know, to see that he just turned on something that was so much bigger than him and when I first saw it I was so fearful and then just see him turn around and you know, kind of wrestle the thing and take to it. I was, like, you like, I was frozen but I was just kind of in awe and then as soon as I saw him get kind of knocked off his board and the wave come between us, I was like, I got to help him and I got to get there as quick as I can and too far away and, like, I think if any award was going to be given out, they all definitely go to Mick and he showed amazing courage and an amazing ability to react in the moment. I don’t know how many people would turn around and take that thing head on,” Wilson said.
Fanning said he was far from a “superhero” and coming face to face with a shark had been a “humbling” experience.
“We’re in their domain. You know, it’s like if you go to a lion’s cage, you jump in the cage and one day your number’s going to come up. I guess I’m just lucky that it wasn’t my time, but, you know, it just sort of gave me the shock of a lifetime,” he said
He also said he would probably return to Jeffrey’s Bay, despite South Africa’s waters being among the most shark-infested in the world.
“Like, J-Bay is such a beautiful place and, you know, I’m really sad that it happened there, because it is, you know, top three favorite places for me on earth and I have so many friends and family there and, yeah, I’ve got to go back, and yeah it’s going to be hard but you’ve got to face these things front on, yeah, I guess I’ll deal with it when I come to it but, you know, how many people have gone and surfed J-Bay and nothing’s happened. It was just, it was just unlucky but lucky in the same sentence.” he said.
Fanning also praised the organizers of the event for the speed with which the rescue craft got to him.