“People don’t know how to react,” Fanning continued. “They ask, ‘When should I go back in the water?’ There isn’t an answer for that. I just explain my story, what I went through and how I got myself back. They might take something out it. It’s not like it happens and I start calling. It’s usually a friend of a friend. I’m not being an ambulance chaser.
“Here, on the Gold Coast, we thought we were immune to it, especially because of how many people are out all the time, so this week’s attack has definitely shaken up the community.”
The Herald spoke to Fanning ahead of the premiere of his two-part National Geographic documentary Save This Shark starting on Tuesday, September 15.
It’s a fascinating insight as Fanning examines the apex predator from close range. The final scenes see him diving among enormous tiger and bull sharks.
“It got to a point when there was so many sharks, and the tigers started getting aggressive,” he said. “What you didn’t see is when one of the sharks was gnawing one of the other diver’s air tanks. It was pretty intense – but incredible. It shows that things can turn so quick with those wild animals.
“For me, I wanted to see if the things I’d done personally [since the attack five years ago], meant I was healed. I still have some hang ups. If I hear a splash behind me, it freaks me out. But when I see a shark, I don’t become a complete mess. I can control my emotions and observe the situation and calmly do the best thing possible for me.”
Despite this week’s fatality, the Tweed Coast Pro will go ahead on the Gold Coast this weekend.
“Ever since my incident in Africa, the WSL has done an incredible job in keeping surfers safe,” Fanning said. “I felt safer in a heat on my own instead of free surfing. They’ve got drones, jet skis, in Africa they use a buoy that can detect things of a certain length.”
Fanning doesn’t just lend gentle support to shark attack victims. He also helps injured footballers like Latrell Mitchell.
When the Souths fullback had his hamstring ripped from the bone, the great Matty Johns contacted Mitchell’s manager, Matt Rose, and told him to contact Fanning.
In 2004, Fanning had done something similar while surfing in Indonesia. Both were operated on by the same surgeon, Dr David Wood.
“I sent Latrell a message and I’ve left it in his court,” Fanning said. “I haven’t heard from him. He knows I’m here if he wants to have a chat. David Wood is incredible. Everyone who has had their surgery done by him has come back stronger and faster.”
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.