Australian professional surfer Matt Wilkinson has narrowly avoided a shark attack near Ballina – a notoriously deadly spot on the NSW North Coast.
The shocking encounter on Wednesday was captured on camera by a surf life saver operating a drone at Sharpes Beach.
Watch the encounter in the video above
The drone issued a pre-recorded message to Wilkinson warning there was a dangerous shark nearby – and he quickly got out of the water.
But Wilkinson didn’t realise just how close he’d come to an attack until the 32-year-old watched the footage on the beach.
“I heard a little splash behind me, looked back and there was nothing there, and then the lifeguards drone came down and said that there was a dangerous shark in the area,” he said.
“The shark had kind of come at me from in front and then went around the back and had a little go at my legs, then last minute decided that my feet stunk or something and turned away.”
The type of shark remains unknown but it’s believed to be at least 1.5 metres. Wilkinson said despite his decades in the water, this was by far his closest encounter.
“It could have been either a little white or a bull shark or a bronzie,” Wilkinson said.
“It was probably about eight-foot long, it looked like it was a few feet longer than me.
“I’m feeling pretty lucky.
“We get to see sharks a little bit out in the surf but that was definitely my closest encounter and I hope it doesn’t get any closer than that.”
Australian world champion surfer Mick Fanning had an infamous encounter with a great white shark while competing in South Africa which was broadcast on live TV.
“His one was a little bit more wild than mine, but I guess I got to feel that weird, heart-sinking but lucky feeling when I saw that footage,” Wilkinson said.
“But I’m still here in one piece and I’ll live to surf another day.”
Wilkinson has competed on the World Surf League since 2006 and finished fifth in 2017.