FOX Business Network's Robert Gray talked with World Surf League CEO Paul Speaker about the shark attack on pro-surfer Mick Fanning and how the surfing community is working with its partner GoPro to better protect surfers in the world's most dangerous waters.
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FBN: What went through your mind as you watched the attack live?
Speaker: You’re just praying for the best. It just felt like a long period of time watching him in distress. A lot of times you know the outcomes of this (kind of attack); time slows down, it was a very scary thing for all of us to watch a friend in the water. In the end for him to come out of the water without any injury is amazing to us.
FBN: Are the pro surfers given any training to elude or fight sharks?
Speaker: I can’t speak for the athletes and how they individually handle it. We have protocols. If there are any risks in the water then there’s immediately a waving of the hands to get the jet skis and boats over to you as fast as possible for extraction. (A shark attack) truly is an anomaly, it’s very rare. Other training is probably more important and you can see from Mick and his ability to get away from that shark, he’s in unbelievable shape and to battle (the shark) is something else—incredible.
FBN: What new technologies are you looking to use to keep surfers safe in the water?
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Speaker: We’re constantly looking at technologies to make sure we can offer a safe environment for athletes. Drones are relatively new, the opportunity to take live feeds from drones is new as well. We’ll be implementing as soon as possible a system where we can use drones to spot any risk in the water, inclusive of animals.
FBN: So you’re looking at using drones from above, what about monitoring underwater?
Speaker: It’s part and parcel of delivering the best fan experience. We have a lot of discussions about where we can put cameras and where we can’t put cameras and how we move in the water and water safety. There are possibilities of us incorporating those camera technologies into things we do. Obviously we’ll talk to GoPro (GPRO),our partner, to see if they can assist us in those things.
FBN: What effect has the attack had on the tour sponsors?
Speaker: We reached out to all the surfers and all of our partners to make sure everybody understood what we are doing and to get some feedback if there is something we’re not doing well. We haven’t heard from anybody feeling uncomfortable with the sport. They understand it’s truly an anomaly. It’s a very, very rare occasion. We don’t believe it’s ever happened before where we had a shark attack during a competitive heat. Our playing field is the ocean. It’s a beautiful backdrop for us on our tour and has a side of it that’s violent and really unpredictable. I think we handled it pretty well. I’m very proud of the World Surf League team.