Surfer Matt Wilkinson had a close encounter with a 5-foot shark while on his board, but had no idea any of it was happening as the shark approached. The shark came within inches of Wilkinson before deciding to dart the other way and head towards the Australian east coast.
The whole thing was caught on video via a drone that is part of an Australian shark warning system. The drone is also what alerted Wilkinson that something else was in the water with him.
The 32-year-old surfer, who finished fifth on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour in 2016 and 2017, heard the warning from the technology, telling everyone in the area to head out. After he was safe on land, Wilkinson spoke to NBC about the experience, still visibly shaken and processing everything that just happened:
“I had no idea that it was so close. You kinda think that you’re more aware than that, so when I saw the footage … I was like ‘wow, that’s really close'”
He explained that as the shark first approached. he did hear something odd — likely the animal’s tail.
“I kinda looked back and I was like, ‘No, there’s nothing there’ and I had some weird vibes and just convinced myself that it was all good, as you always do when you’re out in the surf,” Wilkinson said.
Officials said the shark may have been deterred from attacking Wilkinson because of the “unfamiliar touch of a leg rope” that was hanging off the board or the noise of the drone flying above.
According to Surf Life Saving, the drone, referred to as an unmanned air vehicle (UAV), is one piece of an $8 million investment Australia to protect people on beaches.
Looking back on the close call, the surfer can’t help but think of how wrong it could have gone.
“It was such a weird feeling to just know that half a second later I could’ve been in a chopper with one leg going to hospital or something. It’s a horrible thought but, I don’t know, I’m very grateful,” he said.