Pro surfer Matt Wilkinson has close encounter with shark in Australia

Drone technology alerted professional surfer Matt Wilkinson of a shark in the area as he paddled Wednesday off the coast of Sharpes Beach in Ballina, Australia. 

Footage from the drone shows the 1.5-meter white shark approaching Wilkinson's board before turning away at the last moment. The drone, deployed by Surf Life Saving New South Wales, played an automated message informing him to return to the beach immediately. 

"I heard a splash and a noise and looked around and couldn’t see anything," Wilkinson said, via Surf Life Saving. "Then the drone came down and told me that there was a dangerous shark in the area, return to the beach.

"I got to the shore feeling a bit weird and the lifeguards showed me the footage and I realized how close it came without knowing it was there. It looks like it’s going for my leg and it changed its mind." 

CLOSE CALL: Pro surfer Matt Wilkinson has been filmed in an incredibly close encounter with a shark while surfing at a beach on the NSW North Coast this afternoon.

The 1.5m shark appears to trail Wilkinson, who was surfing at Sharpe’s Beach, before it suddenly swims away.

The unmanned air vehicle (UAV) is part of an $8 million investment by the New South Wales government in patrolling 34 beaches to assist lifeguards in protecting swimmers and surfers. 

"It’s nice to know the drones go up and down the beach and can see what we can’t and it makes you feel more comfortable. It makes other people aware that there are sharks out there but usually with no intention. It’s nice to know if there’s a big one around you can just come in and let them go by," Wilkinson said. "I’ve been surfing with sharks my whole life and I understand they’re there and know enough about them to know they have not too much interest in humans. I’m just glad today the shark reconsidered at the last second." 

The 32-year-old finished fifth on the World Surf League's Championship Tour in 2016 and 2017. 

Wilkinson has had a close encounter with a shark before. In 2015, he surfed the heat before a shark attacked Mick Fanning at the J-Bay Open in South Africa.

"When I saw the footage, I saw the similarities, like I had a yellow leg rope on and Mick’s board was yellow is what I was thinking about when I came in," Wilkinson said. "I called my wife because I didn’t want her to see the footage before I saw it. She doesn’t want me surfing for a couple of days now." 

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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