A year after escaping a shark attack in the waters off the South African coast, Australian surfer Mick Fanning completed an emotional bounce-back from the harrowing incident by winning the J-Bay Open at the same location.
The 35-year-old Fanning narrowly beat John John Florence of Hawaii in the final to win the event for a fourth time in a fairy tale reaction to the incident that left surfing in shock and led to the abandonment of last year’s final.
Last year Fanning was attacked by a shark during the same event with live television pictures showing a 12- to 15-foot great white circling the three-time world champion and then appearing to knock him off his board.
As horrified spectators looked on, Fanning punched and kicked at the shark, before swimming toward a jet-ski which took him back to shore unscathed.
Within five days he was back in the water in his native Australia and despite the near-death escape, continued competing on the world circuit, finishing second at the end of the year.
Fanning shared the title with Julian Wilson last year following the abandonment of the final.
Efforts to ensure the safety of surfers competing this year were significantly increased which Fanning said put his mind at ease.
“It is such an amazing call to make sure that we are all safe,” said the Australian, who is only competing in select events this year.
“We are sitting out there with a whole bunch of a jet skis and we are tracking whatever big fish are coming through. It’s all pretty good.”
Fanning scored 17.70 to Florence’s 17.13 to win a 22nd championship tour victory and jump from 16 to fifth in the World Surf League standings. Florence, 23, moved up to second despite finishing runner-up.