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A surfing competition in South Africa was canceled Sunday after championship surfer Mick Fanning escaped a shark attack in the opening minutes of the final heat.
Organizers of the J-Bay Open, the sixth stop on the 2015 Samsung Galaxy World Surf League Championship Tour, canceled the remainder of the competition after clearing the waters.
Video of the incident appears to show two sharks circling the three-time World Surf League champion. The Water Safety Team pulled Fanning and fellow competitor Julian Wilson out of the waters to safety.
Fanning escaped with a severed leash on his surfboard. He told World Surf League TV that he “punched” the shark “in the back” to scare it away.
“I had this feeling that something was behind (me), and all of a sudden I felt like I started getting pulled underwater. And then the thing came up and I was on my board and it was right there,” he said.
“I had this thought, ‘What if it comes around for another go at me?’” he said. “Before I knew it, the boat was there. … I can’t believe it, I was tripping out. I’m totally tripping out.”
The incident rattled the surfing community, which breathed a collective sigh of relief over news of the rescues. In an interview after the incident, fellow surfer Wilson struggled to maintain composure as he recalled watching Manning get knocked off his board.
“We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today. Mick’s composure and quick acting in the face of a terrifying situation was nothing short of heroic and the rapid response of our Water Safety personnel was commendable,” WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow said in a statement.
“The safety of our athletes is a priority for the WSL and, after discussions with both Finalists, we have decided to cancel the remainder of competition at the J-Bay Open. We appreciate the ongoing support we have in South Africa and once again want to express our gratitude to the Water Safety Team.”