SYDNEY - An Australian surfer who paddled towards fellow professional Mick Fanning as he fought off a shark in South Africa played down his heroics after being nominated for a bravery award Tuesday.
Julian Wilson was in the water competing against his countryman in the final heat of a world tour event at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa's Eastern Cape province on Sunday when the shark struck.
As Fanning was knocked off his board and desperately punched the animal, Wilson frantically paddled towards him to help rather than head to shore, before rescue boats picked up both men.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had written to the state's governor-general nominating the 26-year-old, a Queenslander, in recognition of his actions.
"What we saw in South Africa was Queensland mateship at its best," Palaszczuk said in a statement. "I've written to Government House nominating Julian Wilson for a bravery award.
"He put his own safety aside and disregarded the obvious risk to his life so he could help a fellow Queenslander. Anyone who paddles towards a shark attack instead of away from it is pretty brave, in my books." Fanning, a three-time world champion who emerged unscathed from the incident, said it was a wonderful gesture.
He said Wilson totally disregarded his own safety "and came for me".
"It was so brave and as I said, he is just a warrior. So thanks, bud," Fanning said at a joint press conference with Wilson after their arrival back in Sydney.
Wilson said his instincts simply took over, and insisted that if anyone got an award it should be Fanning for battling a shark and living to tell the tale.
"I don't think it is about me at all," he said.
"I think if any award was going to be given out, I think they should all definitely go to Mick. He showed amazing courage and an amazing ability to react in the moment.
"I don't know how many people would turn around and face that thing head on. They would probably be paddling as hard as they can towards the beach and screaming and kicking and he honestly didn't.
"He was just turning around on the thing and gave it a bit of what for. No matter what gets thrown at Mick, he turns around and confronts it."