By Mike Latronic
Being a surfer can be downright risky. While there are millions of surfers worldwide, I’d be inclined to guess that only a small percentage actually do it daily or weekly – and even a smaller number that venture regularly into “extreme” conditions.
By extreme that could mean perilously dangerous waves, rip currents or exposed rocks. Over crowding is the oxymoron here because an average ride at Trestles or Malibu is wayyyy more dangerous than less crowded breaks… but the less crowded breaks might be “more dangerous.” That keeps circling in my brain not making ANY sense but somehow it’s true… sorry.
Then there are other natural dangers. Seaweed, sure – anyone who’s surfed has likely gotten tangled up in it at one point or another. Sun exposure, definitely – dermatologists world over make a consistent living from those humans who dare to bronze doing their favorite sports. Then there’s extremely cold water, potential dehydration, neck breaking shorebreak and the list goes on… Until it stops. And it stops at the single most frightening aspect of playing in our ocean… the shark.
While more people actually perish on this planet from falling coconuts than sharks, the fear factor hits the red line for any human when it comes to potentially being eaten alive.
Fortunately and scientifically, sharks aren’t all that interested in eating us and usually most incidents are nature’s mistakes. Albeit frightening and sometimes devastating mistakes.
For the first time in history there was a major shark incident in a high level surfing event at this year’s WSL JBay Open… and it just so happened to our WCT #2 tour leader and past champion, Mick Fanning.
Watching it live on the WSL webcast there were about 20 seconds where I literally didn’t breathe. The camera zooms in on Mick, one of the world’s most celebrated and humble surfers alive, as he sits unsuspecting in the line up. Suddenly, a large shark fin emerges only a few feet away and the animal proceeds to aggressively ram into Mick, jarring him repeatedly until a wild roll knocks him off his board with a frenzy of flippers and splashing.
The camera loses Mick behind a wave but the spray and splashing continue. The other finalist in the water, Julian Wilson, is visible and courageously paddling at full speed toward the scene to come to Fanning’s aid.
I need to breathe. Fortunately moments later we see Mick pop up on a rescue ski, Julian next, and both are completely unscathed.
It was astonishing. For all that splashing and frenzied movement the only damage reported was a small indent on Mick’s board and a severed surfboard leash!! And well apparently the shark may have a black eye as Mick claims to have punched him in the head a good one…
The adrenaline dump was huge. For Mick, for Julian, for his family and friends watching, for the world… the adrenaline dump was massive. I will man up and admit that I cried in joy that Mick was unharmed. But as tears welled out and the story unfolded on the live webcast and they continued to reveal Mick’s emotions along with his friends’ and Julian’s emotions, it became one of the most memorable displays of brotherhood I’ve ever witnessed. You could really hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes.
Everyone they talked with (including Kelly Slater) was truly humbled and all knew Mick dodged the biggest bullet of his life. By the third time they showed the aerial footage of the scene, I absolutely fell in awe watching Mick in a whirlwind and Julian bee lining straight toward him…
What the world might consider THE most “individual” of individual sports became the warmest brotherhood of athletes in history thus far. I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this family.