Back in July, 11-time surfing champ Kelly Slater lost to Mick Fanning in the semifinals of the J-Bay Open in South Africa. During the final, Fanning was attacked by a shark, ending the competition. Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick spoke with Slater about the encounter and more on his radio show. This story originally appeared in the August 3, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.
Dan Patrick: Did you think that it could have been you [fighting the shark] if you had defeated Fanning in the semifinal?
Kelly Slater: It very well could have been. In our semifinal I needed one more good score [to win] but got a little impatient. If I had been just a little more patient, I probably would have been in the final. I would have probably been sitting close to where Mick was at the time. A bunch of friends and family said, "It was the first time we were glad we didn't see you make a final."
DP: Have you seen [sharks] when you've been surfing?
KS: I've seen tons of sharks. I'm from Florida, so I've seen hundreds of sharks over the years. I've seen a great white breach here at Jeffrey's Bay [in South Africa]. We see sharks all over the world. It's natural. It's like if a shark went on land, he'd see a human. Same thing.
DP: Was Fanning in shock?
KS: I think he was in shock for quite a while. It's one of those things where you have to play mind games with yourself to get over it. It's a realistic threat for what we do. A couple of months ago I had dinner with Derek Jeter. He said, "I'll never surf. I'm too scared of sharks." I said statistically there's nothing to be worried about. Hundreds of millions of people go in the water between shark attacks. He said, "I'm not hearing that. I don't care what you say."
DP: Do you understand why some people view surfing that way?
KS: There's always that realistic fear. Most people who have been around a lot of sharks think that shark didn't want to attack Mick. It was just curious. He didn't come up in attack mode with his head up and his tail down. His head was down and his tail was up and he bit through the leash. We have to try to take the emotion out of it and be realistic. The funny thing about this is that Mick Fanning, in my eyes, is one of the greatest athletes in the world. He's won three titles. And now everyone has just heard of him because he almost got bit by a shark.
DP: If you took me out on the water, could you teach me to surf?
KS: How good of a student are you?
DP: I'd be willing to try.
KS: I could probably get you up on the first wave if you get a big stable board that's closer to a boat. You can stand up in a boat, right?
DP: Can I wear floaties?
KS: If you want to, but you might be out there by yourself then.
DP: A Speedo?
KS: That's fine. I'd do it.