20 Jul 2015

Surfer battles shark attack during competition

5:21 pm on 20 July 2015

Surfing's governing body says it will listen to the concerns of athletes before finalising whether to return to Jeffreys Bay next year, after Mick Fanning's frightening encounter with a shark.

The Australian surfer survived a shark attack in the final of the J-Bay Open in South Africa, fighting off the circling predator with his fists before returning safely to shore.

Fanning was paddling out to ride his first wave when the unidentified species of shark surfaced next to him, knocking the 34-year-old off his board.

The tour has been going to the South African beach every year since 1996, but World Surf League (WSL) chief executive Paul Speaker said surfers would be asked for their thoughts and opinions before next year's calendar was finalised.

"I was just sitting there and I felt something just get stuck in my leg rope, and I was kicking trying to get it away," Fanning, who is nicknamed 'White Lightning', said.

"I punched him in the back... I instantly just jumped away. It kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming. I just saw fins. I was waiting for the teeth."

After the shark apparently swam away, the shaken triple world champion headed towards the Jeffreys Bay beach and was picked up by a support craft.

Organisers later said two sharks were spotted in the area and the same shark involved in the clash with Fanning was seen again about 30 minutes later.

The incident, which was broadcast on live TV, led to the cancellation of the final against compatriot Julian Wilson.

- Watch more of the World Surf League's coverage of the attack here.

"We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today," the World Surf League said in a statement following the incident.

"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.

"The safety of our athletes is a priority for the WSL and, after discussions with both finalists, we have decided to cancel the remainder of competition at the J-Bay Open."

Fanning and Wilson will both receive second place points and share the prize money.

Craig Lambinon, spokesman for South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute, told ENCA television news: "We believe it is probably the first time that an incident like this at a surfing competition has been caught on camera. The NSRI is urging bathers and surfers to be cautious in the area."

South Africa's waters are among the most shark-infested in the world.

A swimmer was killed by a Great White shark at Albatross Point close to Jeffreys Bay in 2013.

WSL footage shows Fanning being picked up by a support boat.

WSL footage shows Fanning being picked up by a support boat. Photo: WSL

- Reuters / ABC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs