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What really happened the day of Mick Fanning’s shark attack
Nearly four years after Mick Fanning had a terrifying encounter with a shark, the former professional surfer reveals the events of that day - and the resulting media maelstrom.
I will never forget the day. It was Sunday, July 19, 2015, and I had woken up feeling great.
I was in South Africa competing in the J-Bay Open, the sixth event on the World Surf League Championship Tour. I was in the final against a really close mate, Julian Wilson. The winner of the event would take the ratings lead in the world title race, and I really felt like I was on my way to victory that day.
Around four minutes into the final, things got ... interesting. A great white shark appeared. Things happened so almost. I punched and kicked out at the shark, trying to get away.
I thought I was going to die. I guess everyone watching on from the beach that day, and on the live broadcast all over the world, thought the exact same thing.
I started swimming away, and all of a sudden the jetskis were there to help me out of the water. Julian, who had paddled towards me - and the shark - also helped me.
I'll never forget his valor that day and in the days that followed. The shark was one thing, but I had to survive a media scrum when I got back to Australia. And Julian was good enough to stick with me through that, too.
Straight after the incident, I must have been in shock. I was on the water-safety boat chatting with everyone and laughing about the whole situation. At that point it was so surreal.
But once I got on land and saw the reaction from everyone who had witnessed what went down, it hit me. The hugs I felt from some of my close friends brought out a different feeling. I realized then just how lucky I was.
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When I spoke to my mum, she was very emotional and extremely relieved. She’s lost a lot and for one moment she thought she’d lost me, too.
Julian and I love catching up, but we don’t often talk about what happened in the water. Not because it freaks us out, but because we've moved on from it.
The final was obviously canceled after the shark encounter, so it would be great to surf that heat with Julian one time, though as an exhibition clash.
After the incident, I wasn't sure how long I’d need before going back into the ocean - but I knew I’d return.
It was less than a week that I started to feel the urge to get back out there. I didn't want to drag out the process, either, and make it a big mental hurdle for myself. I felt better as soon as I hit the water, but I do admit I was more on edge than I’d ever been.
I've since retired from professional surfing. When you have competed most of your life, there’s always going to be times that you miss it.
In saying that, I've loved the freedom of traveling, of being unchained to an event schedule. I've had more time to stop and enjoy the places and cultures I visit now.
These days, I'm definitely more in tune with my surroundings when I surf.
I think people expected that I would be calling for a cull on sharks after the incident in South Africa, but it's the opposite.
I've always considered myself a visitor to the ocean. We are aware of the dangers when we paddle out and make the choice to enter their realm.
Mick Fanning is an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz Vans; mercedes-benz.com.au/vans.
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