Mick Fanning, shark-beating champion

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Australian surfer Mick Fanning in action on July 19, 2015 before the now famous shark during the J-Bay Open final in Jeffreys Bay

Australian surfer Mick Fanning in action on July 19, 2015 before the now famous shark during the J-Bay Open final in Jeffreys Bay (AFP Photo/Stan Blumberg)

Sydney (AFP) - Australian surfer Mick Fanning, who survived a terrifying encounter with a shark while competing in South Africa, has experienced both triumph and tragedy on his way to three world championships.

His dream to make the pro tour was one he shared with his older brother Sean. But he was forced to carry on alone when his sibling was killed in a car accident on the way home from a party.

The then 17-year-old Fanning had been offered a lift in the same car but chose to walk home that night. He has said that his brother has always been in his thoughts, particularly when he does well at surf events.

"Sean and I were going to do the pro tour together; that was our dream," he said in his 2009 memoir "Surf For Your Life".

"A lot of the time I feel like he's with me when I travel and compete."

Fanning made the tour less than four years after his brother's death and was noticed from the start, finishing fifth and being named as the ASP Rookie of the Year in 2002.

The following year he ended fourth but his meteoric rise was interrupted in 2004 due to injury.

The surfer from Tweed Heads on the New South Wales far north coast had ripped his hamstring off the bone while surfing in Indonesia, an injury which could have ended his career.

But he bounced back to take the world title from Kelly Slater in 2007 -- the first Australian to grab the title since Mark Occhilupo in 1999 -- and won his second title two years later.

In 2013 he collected his third world title and last year was runner-up.

But self-preservation rather than honours were on his mind on Sunday, when he punched the estimated three-metre (10-foot) shark.

"Mick had the survival mechanism to punch the shark to keep himself alive," Australian surf champion Layne Beachley told the Nine Network.

"He's very fortunate. No one in their wildest dreams would think this would happen."