He didn’t cry, at least not till later. Instead, he fought.
The near-miraculous escape of champion surfer Mick Fanning, who found himself under attack by a shark on Sunday off the coast of South Africa, has been seen by people around the world.
The confrontation took place on live TV, and video showing the dark fin approaching Fanning from behind may have gone viral more quickly than any since the South Korean musician Psy rocketed to fame three years ago with his “Gagnam Style” video.
Fanning, who is 34, is a professional surfer from Australia who has won the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour three times. He was competing Sunday in the J-Bay Open, the sixth stop on the 2015 World Surf League Championship Tour, in Jeffrey’s Bay on South Africa’s eastern Cape.
He appeared to be chest-deep in water when a dark fin sliced through the water in his direction. Only he didn’t see it because his back was turned.
“All of a sudden, I sort of sensed something behind me,” he told CNN on Monday. “And then all of a sudden I just jumped on my board and I was, OK, something’s going on.”
‘It started dragging me under’
The shark latched on to his leash, which connects the surfboard to the surfer’s ankle to prevent the board from getting washed away.
“I felt myself getting dragged under by my leash,” Fanning said. “And the next thing I know, I saw his fin and went on my board.”
He said he thinks the shark smacked him in the head, although he doesn’t remember. Then the shark swam back around for another go.
“I went again on my board, and it was like me or the shark,” he said.
“I think I tried to punch it,” he said. “And then it started dragging me under, dragging me by my leash. I was like, I don’t know what to do,” he said.
But then the leash snapped and Fanning began swimming furiously toward land, screaming at fellow surfer Julian Wilson to head for shore, as well.
But Wilson had other ideas.
“As a warrior, as a legend, he just came for me,” Fanning said.
Quickly, before Wilson could get there, the water crew arrived on personal watercraft. Fanning clambered into a raft. His head sank to the floor of the raft for a moment as the reality of what had happened began to dawn on him.
But he didn’t feel it fully until he reached the shore.
‘Cried a little bit’
“It didn’t really kick in until I got back here and saw how emotional everyone was,” he told CNN. “Even now, I feel the emotion welling up.”
And he talked to his mother, who had watched as the attack unfolded on live television. She told him she had wanted to rip him right out of the TV screen.
Then came the day after.
“I woke up this morning and spoke to more family and friends, cried a little bit,” he said. “You never know, you’re just lucky. You just thank whatever gods are out there or whatever; you just say thanks. Thanks for looking out for me.”
Asked whether he would go surfing again, he recalled that some surfers had actually been bitten and continued with the sport.
Surfing, he said, gives him a sense of balance. Even if he were not a professional, he said, he would always do it.
“I still will. Just might be a little more cautious,” he said. “I’ll be back out there, yeah.”