JEFFREY'S BAY, South Africa, Reuters () - Australia's triple champion Mick Fanning survived a shark attack in Sunday's final of the World Surf League's J-Bay Open, fighting off the circling predator with his fists before returning safely to shore.
Fanning was paddling out to ride his first wave when the unidentified species of shark surfaced next to him, knocking the 34-year-old off his board.
"I was just sitting there and I felt something just get stuck in my leg rope, and I was kicking trying to get it away," Fanning, nicknamed 'White Lightning', told Fox Sports. "I punched him in the back".
"I instantly just jumped away. It kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming. I just saw fins. I was waiting for the teeth."
After the shark apparently swam away, the shaken three times world champion headed towards the beach and was picked up by a support craft.
The incident, which was broadcast on live TV, led to the cancellation of the final against compatriot Julian Wilson.
"We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today," the World Surf League (WSL) said in a statement.
"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.
"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."
South Africa's waters are among the most shark-infested in the world. A swimmer was killed by a Great White shark at Albatross Point close to Jeffrey's Bay in 2013.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Tom Hayward)