Professional surfer Mick Fanning fought off a shark during the finals of the J-Bay Open in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, over the weekend.
The shocking Sunday attack happened as the contest was being streamed live across the globe (see the video, below) by the Santa Monica–based World Surf League, which said in a statement that Fanning was unharmed.
The WSL said there were actually two sharks in the water.
Fanning, who was defending his title at the famed spot, “fought off the two animals before the Water Safety Team quickly arrived and pulled both Fanning and compatriot Julian Wilson into the safety boat,” the league stated.
The contest was called off and the two were given second-place points. The attack came nearly a week before the WSL's Women's Championship Tour and men's Qualifying Series are scheduled to hit Southern California, with the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing July 27 through Aug. 2 in Huntington Beach.
Sharks have also been spotted in Orange County waters this summer.
Meanwhile, Australian Fanning told WSL commentator Peter Mel, a California-based Big Wave World Tour Champion, that he was sitting in the lineup waiting for a wave when his board was bumped and he struck a shark with a fist:
I was just sitting there and I felt something grab or get stuck in my leg rope and I instantly just jumped away. It just kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming. I just saw fins, I didn’t see any teeth. I was waiting for the teeth to come at me as I was swimming. I punched it in the back. I’m totally fine, I’ve got nothing wrong with me. There’s a small depression in my board and my leg rope got bitten and I’m totally tripping out.
Fanning's leash was either chomped apart or ripped during the struggle. The 34-year-old later detailed more of what he experienced:
I was just cruising and waiting for my turn, my opportunity, and I knew Julian (Wilson) was down the point. I was just about to get moving and start paddling again and all of a sudden I had this instinct that something was behind me. I started getting pulled underwater and then the thing came up and I was on my board and it was right there. I saw the whole thing thrashing around but I was getting dragged under by my leg rope. I felt like it kicked me off but it was still there going and I was still attached to my board. I felt like I punched it a couple of times and then it was dragging me and then my leg rope broke.
[Warning: NSFW language]:
Wilson says he paddled toward Fanning to help.
“I saw the whole thing pop up behind him,” he said. “It came up and he was wrestling it. I saw him get knocked off his board and then a wave popped up and I thought, ‘He’s gone.' I felt like I couldn’t get there quick enough. The results don’t mean anything to me, I’m just happy he’s alive.”
WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow said the league was grateful no one was hurt.
“Mick's composure and quick acting in the face of a terrifying situation was nothing short of heroic,” Perrow said. “The rapid response of our water safety personnel was commendable. They are truly world-class at what they do.”
Fanning beat 11-time world champ and Malibu resident Kelly Slater to get to the final.