Taj Burrow talks J-Bay, sharks, and Mick Fanning
Story by Elliot Struck Taj Burrow has felt a similar, albeit less intense fear to what Mick Fanning experienced during the final of the 2015 J-Bay Open. Back in 2003, Taj was midway through a semifinal at the right point against Damien Hobgood when he saw a great white swimming towards him. He made it to the rocks but […]
Story by Elliot Struck
Taj Burrow has felt a similar, albeit less intense fear to what Mick Fanning experienced during the final of the 2015 J-Bay Open. Back in 2003, Taj was midway through a semifinal at the right point against Damien Hobgood when he saw a great white swimming towards him. He made it to the rocks but was traumatised for a substantial amount of time afterwards. Given how scary it was, he can only imagine how Mick Fanning’s feeling after actually making contact with a shark at the same spot. TB, having been eliminated from this year’s event, bailed home early to be with his expecting partner, Bec. He was watching live when Mick’s shark encounter went down, the surreal scene taking far too long to unfold and even longer to fully sink in. Stab dialled in with Taj for his thoughts on watching a fellow World Tour competitor live through such a thing…
Stab: Have you ever see anything like that?
Taj Burrow: That’s got to be the wildest thing ever. I saw it live, and I was just absolutely tripping. I’m still kind of in shock, I can’t even imagine how Mick feels. I thought he was just getting eaten in front of a live audience on live TV. One hundred percent, I just thought he was getting rag-dolled by a great white. Because that little swell came and he disappeared behind it. And I noticed that the cameraman immediately went to a wide shot, because they must’ve thought the same. That was horrible. Poor guy. Lucky guy! It honestly feels like a miracle.
Did you text the boys right away? About 10 or 12 of us have a big thread going on Viber, and everyone was just constantly chiming in on that, saying how happy they are that no one got hurt, saying big hugs to everyone. It was pretty extreme.
Though it wasn’t as close as Mick’s, you also had a shark encounter at J-Bay. It was in a semifinal in 2003 against Damien Hobgood. A few friends have been texting me about that as well actually. Because at the time, no one really saw it except for me and a water photographer. I came in freaking out and everyone was saying ‘no, no, it was just a whale, get back out there!’ I was just in such shock. I just saw a huge great white coming straight at me in a swell. He wasn’t gunning for me, but he was just cruising straight towards me. The thing was so big… the fin was leaving a wake off it. I just bolted up the rocks. That traumatised me for a while. I’d never seen something so big in the ocean. But yeah, still nothing compared to what Mick experienced.
Photo: WSL/Kirstin Scholtz
Based on your experience, when (if ever) will Mick want to surf J-Bay again? I was really, really scared of J-Bay for a while after that. J-Bay was branded in my mind as terrifying for a long time. I was on edge the next year I went back, but it slowly went away the more and more I went there. But I can’t imagine how Mick would be feeling… it must be so traumatising. I don’t even think he knew what had happened when he was getting on the boat. It wouldn’t have sunk in for a really long time. It’s such a unique thing to happen.
What about this has had the biggest impression on you? I just cannot believe he didn’t get injured at all… not even a bite or anything. It’s crazy. But I would think that the most terrifying moment of his whole life would be when he got separated from his board and he was swimming towards the beach. That scared me so much. You’d just be thinking it was going to come back for you. He was swimming and splashing heaps too, which is apparently the worst thing to do, but it’s all that you can do. I was thinking that must have been the worst part of the whole experience. Once he’d realised what it was and thought it was after him, just floating there like a sitting duck. The skis and the boats were there so fast it might’ve scared it off.
What are your thoughts on the future of the J-Bay event? I’m just watching from home so I can only guess at the vibe over there right now, but maybe the tour won’t even go back to J-Bay cause they’ll be so freaked out by that. Who knows, they’ll have to decide that. It’s definitely surreal, I’m still processing it.
So I’m guessing you weren’t too psyched for a paddle in WA today. No, I haven’t surfed after seeing that. It’s stormy and ugly today… I’m happy to give it a miss.
Unfortunately, Mick’s crazy high surfing level at this event was shadowed by his crazy high shark-fighting level at this event. Let’s not forget either, though. Photo: WSL/Kelly Cestari
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