Former Championship Tour surfer and World No.1 Matt Wilkinson had a close encounter with a shark this week while surfing near Ballina, on the New South Wales Far North Coast.
A NSW Surf Life Saving drone captured the incident at Sharpes Beach on Wednesday and alerted Wilkinson to the shark in the area.
WIlko was paddling on his board when he heard a "splash" behind him but couldn't see anything and continued to surf for a further 10-15 minutes.
Wilkinson told the WSL he felt "spooked" but brushed it off until a NSW Surf Life Saving drone operator warned him to get out of the water.
"When I came in and I first watched it I went, ‘Woah it must have been just before the drone told me to go in'. Then I watched the good quality clip and I realised I was paddling up the beach and I saw the water and realised that was kind of a while ago."
"I guess the protocol was for him to tell the lifeguard and close the beach and then he came back and did the warning thing with the drone. But in that time, I'd caught two waves so it was pretty weird that the first thing wasn't to come down and tell me."
"Obviously, the drone being there is awesome and it is going to save lives when sharks are coming in and spotting it early but I think he had a few seconds of seeing the shark, saw me, and then it was already kind of gone so he closed the beach."
"But for me, I was kind of like, ‘Woah he was right there and watched it happen?' I didn't know for like 10 or 15 minutes."
Once he had reviewed the footage on land, a shaken-up Wilkinson couldn't believe how close the shark had swum quickly up behind him.
"I feel fine but I know I'm going to have some weird thoughts come through my head next time I'm out the back and see a dolphin fin pop out or something. I guess that will be the real test. I'm feeling pretty good mentally and grateful that I'm walking around and that the shark made a split decision not to do whatever it might have done."
Wilkinson told the WSL he had sought the advice from close friend and 3x World Champion Mick Fanning who experienced a similar incident in the Final of the J-Bay Open in 2015.
"I spoke to Mick last night for a bit. He said that he's there for me if I ever needed to chat. He gave me an idea of a few feelings that might come up and the names of a few shark experts. I sent them the clip and got some info on what kind of shark it was and what the shark might have been doing behind me there."
Wilkinson says the shark experts he spoke to had identified the shark as a 2.5 metre bull shark whose behaviour indicated that it was in ‘foraging mode' at the time of the incident.
"The way he explained it was, 99 per cent of the sharks you see are just coming along the beach and cruising at one speed - they don't really acknowledge anything. But it came kind of in from out to see and saw me and went, ‘all right let's check this out'."
"They said you'll never really know if something spooked it or whether it decided you weren't food. That's kind of the weird thing, whether actually, it was going to do it, and something made it stop or it just decided itself. It's a creepy thought."
The incident has forced Wilkinson to re-evaluate his approach to surfing.
"I think I'm going to be a bit more careful when going way out the back by myself. I've always just assumed that sharks are not interested or if one comes at you there's something going on with the shark and it doesn't matter if you are alone out the back or in a big group close to shore."
"But I think I'm going to be a bit more alert to my senses and if something spooks me I don't think I'll stay out [laughs]. I guess I just have to find a happy balance and not get spooked each time my toe touches the water."
The incident has coincided with the eve of Wilkinson's honeymoon and the 32-year-old newlywed is looking forward to spending a couple of days inland with his wife, Anna.
"We're going into the mountains for the weekend and having our honeymoon and I think she wants me surfing shories for a little while. She obviously knows I'm safe but it's a little bit too close to home this one but yeah glad it didn't end up worse."