Close Encounter of The Shark Kind: On Tuesday Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson were paddling out to compete for an event title and world No. 1 ranking, but a close encounter with a shark saw them thrust into the global media spotlight that culminated with an intimate press session in Sydney today.
Fanning was pulled by a shark from his board just seconds into the competition. The world watched in horror the attack happening live.
Fellow finalist Julian Wilson was in the water and did not think twice, of his own safety. When he saw his fellow competitor and mentor go under he paddled frantically to his friend’s aid, fearing the worst.
(Julian Wilson) “Paddling for him I thought that I wasn’t going to get there in time,” said Wilson. “I came over a wave … his board was over here and he was swimming that way, and I thought it was going to grab him and take him under.”
Mick, everyone is glad you’re still here. Did you manage any sleep last night?
MF: “Thanks so much. It was a wild afternoon…so many emotions running…Lots of hugs and laughs and plenty of tears. A bunch of friends from the tour – competitors and administrators – came by my place to make sure I was really in one piece. We had a few drinks to celebrate and some dinner. There was a lot of love and relief, but it was so strange though … it felt like I was at my own wake to be honest. I got some sleep but it was a pretty restless night.”
RB: Have you watched the footage yet? Will you, or is it something you don’t want to ever think about again?
MF: “I’ve watched it so many times. It’s surreal watching it play out. It’s like, did that really happen to me. I just can’t believe I’ve come through this completely unscathed. Mentally I’m a bloody mess, but I’ll come good in time.”
RB: Talk to us about the webcast. Is it crazy that the world saw it all go down live? A lot of people feared the worst, how much do you feel for your loved ones having to see that?
MF: Thinking about this playing out on a live broadcast with my family and friends and people that support me all watching is something I’m still processing. That’s one of the scariest factors, and what really gets me emotional. From all reports, the WSL broadcast team handled the whole situation very well, and constantly assured everyone I was safe and coping. I am thankful to them for that, because it really was a crazy situation to deal with. On Tuesday Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson were paddling out to compete for an event title and world No. 1 ranking, but a close encounter with a shark saw them thrust into the global media spotlight that culminated with an intimate press session in Sydney today.
RB: What about the interviews afterwards, a necessary process? You and Julian were incredible on air, held it together like nobody else could have, but it was tough viewing. Compelling but gut wrenching.
MF: When I got on the boats I had the camera on me, and when Pete Mel was interviewing me I was still so buzzed from the adrenaline. I hadn’t had a chance to really think things over when I answered Pete’s questions. We got to land and walked through the crowd to go and see the commissioners, Kieren Perrow and Renato Hickel, to determine what was going to happen next.
I was in a small room when a few of my closest friends from the CT came in and I completely lost it. There were about eight grown men there, and every single one of us was crying. At that moment I realized there was going to be some serious concern from my family and friends around the world, so I asked if I could do an interview so they could hear it from me that I was OK. So, yeah, it was really necessary for me.
RB: There’s no surfer better equipped on tour than you to deal with something like this; you’ve gone through your share of personal issues and injuries, you were the surfer’s rep for a long time and have basically been the spiritual captain of the tour for the last half-dozen years. Do you just say, “Here we go again,” and put on your hardhat and try to rebuild?
MF: I really don’t know at this point. It’s one of those things that throws ones perspective completely out of whack. I’m not thinking about contests and titles, my mind is purely on family and friendships right now.
RB: It seemed you went through a huge range of emotions straight afterwards, from euphoria on the boat to crashing hard once you hit the beach… you kept repeating that you were tripping. A day later has it started to sink in at all?
MF: I’m still tripping. Ha! Ha! One of the coolest things is how much love has been sent my way. I’ll probably never get around to replying everyone and saying thanks, but the messages have been overwhelming and that’s what’s making me still tear up.
RB: Have you seen any of the memes, and can you laugh about them yet? The Internet is calling you Chuck-Norris-meets-Crocodile-Dundee…
MF: The boys have been showing me a few. They’re gold and definitely giving me some good laughs. Cheers to everyone for putting them together.
RB: Tell us about Jeffrey’s Bay… You’ve been a standout there for a dozen years; have won the event three times.
MF: I love the place. Nothing could ever change that. The wave is like no other, the people are pure gold and it’s maybe my favorite stop on the schedule. I felt like I was on track for a win, but it was going to be a great fight. I was so excited to be surfing against Julian in that final and it’s a bummer that it didn’t happen… man I was glad he was out there, though.
MF: I’m not thinking about whether I’ll go back at the moment. We’ll see how I feel. I’ll never surf on July 19 again, though.
RB: The world has watched the clip more than nine million times on YouTube. Is there anything about the incident we’re not seeing on the tape that you feel needs to be clarified? Do you think you and the shark got tangled up accidentally, or was he checking you out?
MF: The craziest moment actually unfolded when I got knocked off my board and disappeared behind the set wave. The thing started thrashing around me, you can see the water splashing, and that’s when I was hitting it. I don’t know what the shark’s intentions were. It definitely got stuck in my legrope, but I’m just thankful it was my leash and not my leg.
RB: Yesterday you said you’d be happy never to compete again, did you feel the same way when you woke up this morning?
MF: I’m just going to get home and get my head together. Like I said, heats and the world title really aren’t something I’m thinking about right now.
RB: Finally, what can you say about Julian? Did you guys have a beer last night and just sit there shaking your heads?
MF: I just want to say thanks to Julian for being such a courageous legend; coming for me and completely disregarding his own safety. The beach announcers and the WSL Water Patrol were also brilliant. The outpouring of messages of love and support from around the world really means a lot too. So… thanks!