Australian surfer Matt Wilkinson has narrowly avoided being attacked by a shark while surfing at a popular beach in northern NSW.
The former pro surfer was paddling at Sharpes Beach in Ballina on Wednesday, oblivious a 1.5m shark was lurking right behind him.
The terrifying close encounter was captured on camera by a Surf Life Saving drone, which alerted Matt to the shark via a warning over the speaker.
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“I was surfing out the back at Sharpes Beach and just cruising on my own and I heard a splash and a noise and looked around and couldn’t see anything,” Wilkinson told Surf Life Saving NSW.
“Then the drone came down and told me that there was a dangerous shark in the area, return to the beach.”
The 32-year-old said he returned to the shore “feeling a bit weird”, however it wasn’t until he was shown the footage by lifeguards that he realised how close the shark actually came.
“It looks like it’s going for my leg and it’s changed its mind… I feel grateful and pretty weird at the same time but happy it decided not to go me,” he said.
The frightening incident is all too familiar for Wilkinson, who competed in the heat just before Mick Fanning was almost attacked at J-Bay in South Africa in 2015.
“When I saw the footage I saw the similarities, like I had a yellow leg rope on and Mick’s board was yellow is what I was thinking about when I came in,” Wilkinson said.
“I called my wife because I didn’t want her to see the footage before I saw it.
“She doesn’t want me surfing for a couple of days now!”
Following the incident, the beach was evacuated and has now been closed until tomorrow.
“It’s nice to know the drones go up and down the beach and can see what we can’t and it makes you feel more comfortable,” Wilkinson said.
“It makes other people aware that there are sharks out there but usually with no intention. It’s nice to know if there’s a big one around you can just come in and let them go by.
“I’ve been surfing with sharks my whole life and I understand they’re there and know enough about them to know they have not too much interest in humans. I’m just glad today the shark reconsidered at the last second.”