One year after the three-time world surfing champion Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark on live television, the World Surf League is returning to the place where it happened — Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. And Fanning is in the competition, which started Wednesday.

The event, one of 11 stops on the men’s Championship Tour, will be momentous and emotional for the competitors, the organizers and fans of the sport.

On July 19, 2015, as the final heat of the J-Bay Open streamed worldwide, Fanning was attacked by a great white shark. It was like a scene out of a summer blockbuster. Fanning, an Australian, was waiting for the next barreling wave when a fin emerged behind him, getting stuck in his surfboard’s leash. There was thrashing, and a wave came, blocking the view.

Shark Attacks Mick Fanning at J-Bay Open Video by World Surf League

The only other competitor in the water was 27-year-old Julian Wilson, who was seen swimming toward Fanning. As a wave blocked Fanning from sight for nine seconds, viewers watched tensely until they saw the surfer swimming safely with limbs intact. Water scooters arrived within seconds, and Fanning and Wilson emerged unscathed.

The moment spread online quickly, sparking an online firestorm of tweets and memes.

In the weeks and months that followed, many wondered: Would the Championship Tour return to J-Bay?

“The W.S.L. office discussed at length,” said Renato Hickel, the deputy commissioner for the Men’s Championship Tour.

Hickel was in the commissioner’s office when the shark approached Fanning. He was the one to sound the three quick blasts of a horn, signaling a stop to the heat.

“The surfers, the administration all agreed that J-Bay is part of the tour, and the incident wasn’t going to prevent us from going back,” Hickel said.

One of the surfers gunning strongly for a return to J-Bay was Fanning himself.

“I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to go back,’” Fanning said, recalling a meeting a few months after the incident with professional surfers and the World Surf League administration. “To turn our back on it would be such a shame.”

Fanning is not currently surfing the full championship tour, instead picking and choosing the events he enjoys most and surfing without “the pressure to get the world title,” he said. J-Bay was an obvious pick.

Fanning arrived in South Africa 10 days ahead of the holding period for the competition, and quickly adjusted. “To be honest, there was some anxiety there, but once I paddled out and once I caught a wave, it was fine,” Fanning said.

Fellow professional surfers and the World Surf League staff were not surprised by Fanning’s quick return to the ocean and to competition.

“A lot of us have long believed he was one of the most, if not the most, psychologically sharp surfer,” said Dave Prodan, vice president for communications at the World Surf League. “I think, for him, surfing isn’t just a career or sport, but it’s something of a salvation. It would only be a matter of time before he got back into the water.”

Indeed, when asked how he was feeling about returning to the lineup for competition, the phrase Fanning uttered most was “all good.” Even after injuring his ankle while practicing in South Africa days before the event, he is expecting to compete. Again, “All good.”

Wilson is returning to the J-Bay lineup too. “There haven’t been any nerves; I’ve just been excited to come back,” he said. “The waves outshine the situation that happened last year.”

Photo

Julian Wilson, right, and Mick Fanning after the shark attack last year.CreditKirstin Scholtz/World Surf League, via Getty Images

When the shark emerged in the final heat of the J-Bay Open, Fanning and Wilson had been in the water for just four minutes. “The goal is to finish off what I was doing last year,” Wilson said.

Ahead of the event, the World Surf League has increased their safety measures and surveillance of the waters. This season, there is one water scooter patrolling the area for each competitor at all times. Drone monitoring systems and a prototype of an underwater sonar technology will be employed. But the ocean is unpredictable, and the technology is not foolproof, Hickel stressed.

“The medium where we practice our sport and hold our events is the ocean,” he said, calling concerns of safety in the water “part of our sport.”

The J-Bay Open is running, depending on the quality of the waves, from Wednesday to July 17. Hickel found himself doing the seeding for the heats and laughed when he recalled who ended up in the first heat of the event: Fanning.

“It’s going to be one of the most watched heats in the history of the sport,” he said.

Fanning went on to win the heat Wednesday, in the waters where he was attacked a year ago.

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