Just a couple of minutes into the 2015 J-Bay Open Final the entire scene turned surreal. Julian Wilson had just finished an average ride and was paddling back out, leaving Mick Fanning further up the point with priority. The camera zoomed in on Mick who was suddenly not sitting on his board. In fact, he was floundering in the water after the sleek grey edges of a shark fin and tail had sliced through the surface.
It was almost inconceivable. The shark surfaced behind Mick and then again as he lost his board. And despite the visuals, there’s pure disbelief for a moment until you recalibrate and realise that one of the all-time legends of professional surfing is grappling with a shark. Quite literally fighting for his life. In the final of one of the world’s premiere surfing events. Then the horror sets in.
Mick was obscured by a breaking wave. The event commentators called out to the rescue craft and they made a beeline to Mick. The camera cut to wide angle. All we could do is watch the boat wake slice the screen. The commentary was eerily quiet as everyone held their breath, not knowing the extent of Mick’s injuries.
It’s your worst nightmare as a surfer, the thing you’ve seen on Youtube and the ghost that lurks in the back of your mind. Those fins, the dead eyes and jaws intent on devouring you. We’re in their domain and every surfer throws the dice when they paddle out, but the reality of this scenario is always there.
It was for White Lightening today.
But he was rescued, along with Julian Wilson, and sat stunned, looking down at his severed legrope. His board seemed ok and Mick commented that the shark had grabbed his legrope and dragged him off his board. I’m not sure how he handled a microphone in his face only moments after confronting death, but Mick is a professional and he composed himself and recounted the experience. Yep, he punched the great white shark in the nose. He was ok.
“” — Mick Fanning
Event commissioner Kieren Perrow called the competition off for the day. This is unprecedented in the history of pro surfing and an air of shock and disbelief weighed heavy over the commentary booth and, no doubt, the crowd.
Hopefully it will not result in J-Bay being pulled from the tour. The break showed her beauty today with airbrushed lines of potential reeling across her fabled reef. Mick was on fire throughout the contest and especially so in the lead-up to the final. How manages to generate so much speed from his rails is part of his legacy.
This is the last wave that Mick caught in his semi-final clash with Kelly Slater. He scored a 9.63, displaying all the trademark power, speed and flow that makes the so-called veteran a lethal competitor.
Sending Mick all the best and hoping this experience at J-Bay doesn’t rattle him too much. He is a man of resilience and grit. A man who surfs for his life. We hope the experience only makes him stronger.