‘I haven’t got a scratch on me’

Aus­tralian com­peti­tor still stunned af­ter bare-handed wres­tle with shark

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS• - BY JOHN PYE

Mick Fan­ning sat up on a high stool, straight backed and good hu­moured, re­count­ing the story he will be telling for the rest of his days, about how he fought off a shark with his bare hands dur­ing a surf­ing com­pe­ti­tion in South Africa.

It sounds like the plot of a movie, but this three-time world cham­pion is no fic­tional Crocodile Dundee-style Aussie. He’s the real thing: his shark-wrestling ex­ploits were broad­cast live.

The 34-year-old Fan­ning ar­rived back in Aus­tralia on Tues­day and ap­peared at a news con­fer­ence in Syd­ney be­fore head­ing home to the Gold Coast, the bur­geon­ing city sur­round­ing Surfers Par­adise beach.

“It was so close. I’m do­ing OK, though,” he said. “I haven’t got a scratch on me. Just more of an emo­tional, men­tal sort of trauma right now.

“To walk away from a shark at­tack with not a scratch on you — it is a mir­a­cle re­ally.”

Fan­ning was com­pet­ing against fel­low Aussie Ju­lian Wil­son in the fi­nal of the JBay Open, the World Surf League event at Jef­freys Bay on South Africa’s east coast, when he was bumped off his board by a shark.

In video of the event posted on the World Surf League web- site, Fan­ning could be seen scan­ning the wa­ter be­fore a big fin emerged be­hind him. He turned to deal with the shark, and then lost his board as a wave rolled in and he dis­ap­peared from view.

Wil­son was pad­dling to­ward Fan­ning and later said that he be­lieved if he could get there with his board, he’d at least have a weapon to dis­tract the shark, which he es­ti­mated was at least twice the size of his mate and child­hood hero.

Fan­ning said at first he tried to swim away but then de­cided to de­fend him­self, and turned to punch the shark in the back. He was next seen fu­ri­ously swimming to­ward a per­sonal wa­ter­craft, where he was helped out of the wa­ter and back to shore.

He re­counted the events to fans gath­ered around him on the beach, and only later, when the adrenalin sub­sided, did the tears kick in as he re­al­ized how close he had come to se­ri­ous in­jury or death.

On a flight from Port El­iz­a­beth to Johannesburg, a woman sit­ting be­side him pointed to the re­port in a news­pa­per and asked if the story was about him. Then he got emo­tional again.

He said he felt so “in­signifi- cant” com­pared with the size and speed of the shark, but didn’t hold any grudges against the apex preda­tor be­cause he knew “we are in their do­main.”

“Thanks for not eat­ing me,” he said, jok­ing about his in­ter­ac­tion with the shark.

Fan­ning said he could sense the shark loom­ing be­hind him, and turned to see it just as con­tact was made.

“I thought, ’Let’s see what hap­pens.’ Like any­thing, you want to go down fight­ing,” he said. “I don’t know why it didn’t bite. I was on top of it, try­ing to put my board be­tween us. It was just flight or fight, I just ran on in­stinct. Once my board was gone, I thought that was it. I was just wait­ing for it to come and take a leg or two. I guess I’m lucky it wasn’t my time.”

Fan­ning said he didn’t know when, but he def­i­nitely planned to re­turn to surf­ing, and to JBay, an area he con­sid­ers among the three most beau­ti­ful places in the world.

Wil­son, who lives on the Sun­shine Coast, fur­ther up the Queens­land state coast­line from where Fan­ning lives, has been nom­i­nated for a brav­ery award by the state premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk.

Fan­ning agreed Wil­son’s sup­port, and the quick re­ac­tion of the res­cue boats and other wa­ter­craft, helped him out of dan­ger.

AP PHOTO

Aus­tralian surf­ing cham­pion Mick Fan­ning smiles dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Tues­day in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia.

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