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World’s Biggest News Story Unfolds In The Surf At Jeffreys Bay

July 25th, 2015
Julian Wilson rides the only wave in the final of the J-Bay Open before it was called off after a shark attack on his opponent Mick Fanning  Photo: WSL / Cestari

Julian Wilson rides the only wave in the final of the J-Bay Open before it was called off after a shark attack on his opponent Mick Fanning Photo: WSL / Cestari

Surfing Column for Independent on Saturday – 25 July 2015

By Paul Botha

This world’s biggest news story this week unfolded at Jeffreys Bay when Australian surfer Mick Fanning experienced arguably the most comprehensively recorded shark encounter of all time just minutes into the Final of the J-Bay Open last Sunday.

The incident took place in perfect conditions, pumping 1.5 to 2 metre waves and in front of a couple of thousand spectators on the beach and tens of thousands more around the world glued to the live TV and internet coverage provided by the half-a-dozen high definition cameras focused on the action.

Fanning, a former three time world champ and three-time and defending J-Bay Open champion, was waiting for his first ride as his opponent and fellow Aussie Julian Wilson paddled back to the line-up after his opener. Sensing something behind him, Fanning was confronted by a large shark that became entangled in his legrope before knocking Fanning off his board, snapping the leash in the process.

Separated from his board, Fanning started swimming for shore as Wilson changed direction and, ignoring his own safety, paddled towards his friend to offer assistance. The vigilant water safety crew reacted immediately and were on the scene within 15 seconds. Marine safety expert Grant Spooner circled the area in his 6 metre inflatable boat to ward off any further action by the shark while jetski pilots Jeremy Phillips and Paris Basson plucking Wilson and Fanning from the ocean.

Executing the well defined safety plan perfectly, the surfers were delivered to nearby Magnatubes Beach where emergency medical staff and an ambulance were already waiting. Miraculously Fanning emerged physically unscathed from the attack and after being treated for shock the surfers were returned to the contest site by car.

Following consultation between the surfers and WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow, it was eventually decided to cancel the rest of the Final. The surfers were awarded equal second place points while the US $140 000 prize-money at stake in the Final was split evenly with each receiving $70 000 (about R850 000).

What followed can only be described as a media frenzy as news outlets, including the world’s biggest organisations, broadcast and published the graphic video footage, high resolution images and interviews with anyone involved. Opinions swirled around on whether it was an attack, and encounter or an incident, the type and size of the shark, whether the WSL had sufficient safety in place and if a surfing event would ever be held at Jeffreys Bay again.

To their credit, the WSL handled the circumstances with aplomb, issuing a statement that the surfers’ safety was the primary concern and applauding the actions of water safety crew, while the commentators and analysts calmly reported live on a scenario that was unprecedented at a major event.

Thanks to Fanning’s bravery, Wilson’ heroics and the exceptionally fast reaction of the safety team, a situation that could have had a far worse outcome was averted. And 30 minutes later local surfers were out at Supertubes enjoying the excellent waves peeling down the point!

ENDS

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