Mick Fanning shark attack: Fellow surfer Julian Wilson hailed as a hero for trying to rescue rival

The surfers were competing for the world title when the attack happened

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A surfer who risked his life trying to rescue Mick Fanning during a shark attack in South Africa has been hailed as a hero.

Julian Wilson was in the water metres from his Australian rival when the horror unfolded during the J-Bay Open on Sunday.

As he watched Fanning get knocked off his board while struggling against the shark, he started paddling towards him as fast as he could.

Breaking down during an interview with the World Surf League (WSL), Wilson said he thought his friend was “gone” when a wave washed over him.

“It came up, and he was wrestling it, and I saw the whole thing, and then I saw he got knocked off his board, and then, a little wave popped up and I just thought, he's gone, he's gone under,” Wilson said.

“I felt like I couldn't get there quick enough.”

Fanning, 34, had told how he punched the shark in the back after it surfaced behind him.

He said the fish “kept coming” at his board as he struggled and kicked and screamed for help.

Wilson, a fellow Australian, said he “couldn't believe” what he was watching and barely thought of his own safety as he paddled towards the shark.

“I was like, I've got a board, if I get there I can stab it, whatever, I got a weapon and I don't know,” he said.

"And then (Fanning) started screaming and I remembered that the boats and stuff were there and we both just started screaming. I was paddling for him.

"I'm just very happy that he's here.”

The pair were photographed being dragged out of the water and on to jetskis by rescuers and shared an emotional hug once back on dry land.

They were competing for the world title but asked if the competition “meant anything” to him, Wilson said: “No, not at all. I'm just happy that he’s alive.”

Commentators and fans on television and social media hailed Wilson as a hero for his efforts to save his friend but when told of the praise, he replied: “It wasn't my battle.”

He and Fanning chose to split the prize money and ranking points after the J-Bay Open was cancelled because of the risk of further shark attacks.