Surfer Mick Fanning survives shark attack: What did he do right?

Mick Fanning: TV cameras at a surfing competition in South Africa showed a shark approaching Australian surfer Mick Fanning. How he escaped unscathed. 

World Surf League via AP
In this image made available by the World Surf League, Australian surfer Mick Flanning is pursued by a shark, in Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, Sunday.

What would you do if you saw a large, gray fin cutting through ocean waters, heading straight for your surfboard?

Three-time world champion surfer Mick Fanning had to answer that question at a competition event in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa on Sunday. Live television cameras showed the Australian surfer lying on his surfboard, waiting for his next wave, when a great white shark approached him.  After a struggle obscured by a wave, Mr. Fanning reappeared unscathed, where he was quickly picked up by an emergency boat.

The video of the incident has since gone viral and many have commented on Fanning’s calm demeanor and quick thinking. In the rescue boat, he told the World Surf League, “I felt something grab, get stuck in my leg rope and instantly jump away. And it just kept coming at my board…I punched it in the back .”

He added, “I’m totally fine, got nothing wrong with me. There’s a small depression in my board and my leg wrap (was) bitten.”

An article by the Daily Mail lists four things Fanning did right: 

  • He fought back. The shark may have thought Fanning could hurt it.
  • He used his surfboard. Shark grabbed surfboard not Fanning.
  • He didn’t thrash around. The shark could’ve returned and he remained calm.
  • He got out of the water quickly. Fanning immediately moved towards shore before boats picked him up. 

The World Surf League issued an official statement on Sunday:

“We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today. Mick’s composure and quick acting in the face of a terrifying situation was nothing short of heroic and the rapid response of our Water Safety personnel was commendable – they are truly world class at what they do.”

According to the Associated Press, Fanning’s mother, who watched the competition live on television in Australia, wept as she told Australian Broadcasting Crop. Radio the attack was “the worst thing I’ve ever seen happen to any of my family because it was just there in front of me.”

 “I went over to the television as though I could pull him out of the television. I just wanted to save him really, but there was nothing I could do," She said in an ABC TV interview.

But those who were there quickly jumped into action. In a moment of true friendship, Fanning’s competitor and friend, Julian Wilson, paddled toward him. Mr. Wilson was also competing in the event and was in the water when he saw Fanning wrestle with the shark and then go under. In an emotional interview, he said “it felt like I could get there quick enough.” He added that he was thinking “I’ve got a board…if I get there I can stab it…I’ve got a weapon.”

Wilson was hailed for his courageous response to a fellow competitor in trouble.

As the AP reported, The World Surf League cancelled the remainder of the event and Fanning will split the prize money with Wilson. The two will share second place.

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