How To Fight Off A Shark Like Mick Fanning

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On Sunday, July 19 in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, during the World Surfing League’s J-Bay Open, there were not only professional surfers in the water, but Great White sharks, too. Five minutes into professional surfer Mick Fanning’s final heat against Julian Wilson, the three-time world champion was attacked by a shark during a live broadcast of the event, but managed to fight off the beast and escape the encounter unscathed.

The video of the attack, which has received over 21 million views on YouTube, shows the protruding fin of the shark quickly approaching an unaware Fanning, when suddenly the animal surfaces and begins to violently nudge the surfer’s body and board. In the midst of the attack, Mick was able to fight off the shark by using a series of defensive techniques against the shark, and seemed calm and collected throughout the fight like some sort shark ninja -- as if being a professional surfer wasn’t cool enough. Luckily, the only casualty of the attack was the surfer’s leash, which was severed by the shark’s razor-like teeth after pulling Fanning underwater with his board.

Fanning’s competitor during the heat, Julian Wilson of Australia, ended up winning the J-Bay Open because of points he received before the event was cancelled, and played a heroic role in the chaotic situation by paddling toward his shark-combating competitor to help. In a teary interview after the incident, Wilson explained, “I started paddling as hard as I could to get him, figuring I had my board and I could stab the shark or use it as some kind of weapon.” Wilson would never have to use his board, though, as jet-skis arrived moments after the attack to lift both Fanning and Wilson out of the shark-infested water and onto the deck of a boat.

Both Fanning and Wilson were lucky to have swam alongside a 20-foot shark and survived, but it was not because of luck alone that Fanning was able to escape from this potentially disastrous attack, but because of certain shark-repelling techniques he instinctively used in order to fight off his attacker. Fanning used five main techniques against his aquatic predator, all of which are outlined below in the order in which they are meant to be used. If you’re ever so unfortunate as to find yourself in a situation like Mick Fanning's, the advice given in this article will give you a fighting chance… literally.

1.) Don’t Panic. Once Mick Fanning realized he was being attacked, he did not panic or begin to thrash around. When a shark senses movement, it becomes more interested in that object than if the object is relaxed. The first step to fighting a shark is staying calm so as to think and act without hesitation. Sharks are deadly, but they’re not invincible.

2.) Fight Back. After composing yourself, it’s time to fight. The best thing one can do as a victim of a shark attack is make the shark believe that it isn’t worth the pain or effort to eat you. It is important to hurt the shark as much as possible, for it will eventually get fed up with your antics and seek easier prey. If a weapon or something similar to a weapon is available, use it. Most likely, you’ll have to improvise (think: camera, surfboard, rock), but anything that can be used to inflict pain upon the shark will help by making you a more threatening opponent.

3.) Fight Smart. While us common folk may not have the stopping power of Mick Fanning, who punched the shark multiple times on its head, it is important to strike the shark with quick and relentless jabs as much as possible. Some of the most effective places to hit a shark are on the snout, gills, and eyes. Take aim, and jab away.

4.) Play Defense. The worst place to be during a shark attack is in open water, because the predator can attack from any direction. If you find yourself in open water during a shark attack, like Mick Fanning did, use either a surfboard or some other object to separate yourself from the shark. If you’re near a wall or another person, put your back against that object or person so the shark is always in sight. And if you find yourself in open water without any defensive object, fight for your life - punch, kick, literally whatever you can do to try to injure your predator.

5.) Call For Backup. Mick Fanning was able to fight off the shark on his own, but was removed from the water about twenty seconds after the attack began. For all of us non-professional surfers, there’s a low chance of such responsive aid, but it is still vitally important to call out for help. Call to nearby boats, lifeguards, swimmers and people on shore. Hell, you might as well call out with a few dolphin yelps, too; they tend to rescue humans from sharks every now and then.

These five techniques, and a decent amount of luck, are the reasons Mick Fanning survived his encounter with a Great White shark, and could be the reasons you survive a shark attack, too. In the heat of the moment it won’t be easy to think logically, and recounting that article you read that one time will be extremely difficult. However, like Mick Fanning, your instincts and adrenaline will kick in, and hopefully these five skills will subconsciously come to the rescue in your time of need.

Despite Fanning’s popular moniker “White Lightning”, which is a reference to his astounding speed on a surfboard, he wisely chose fight over flight during his terrifying attack, holding his ground against the wild animal until aid arrived to rescue him and his opponent. Unless you can swim 25 mph, you should never try to outrun a shark, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Mick Fanning provided the world with an example of how to properly deal with being attacked by a shark, and by simply following his example and the five techniques listed above, you will greatly increase your chances of surviving this extremely rare occurrence.

Immediately after the attack, Fanning recollected his battle with the shark in an interview saying, “It was, like, me or the shark.” This description of the attack, though simple, is about as truthful as can be. For, if and when you find yourself the victim of a shark attack, the mortal plight will be the same: it will be you, or the shark.


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.