Mick Fanning dodged a shark in his World Surf League return, but there was no getting around Brazilian world champion Italo Ferreira.
The Australian veteran’s wildcard appearance coincided with a shark sighting which temporarily halted competition at Sydney’s Narrabeen Beach on Sunday.
Three-time world champion Fanning, who famously survived a shark attack in competition in South Africa in 2015, was safely back on the beach after advancing from his elimination heat when a shark was spotted.
Surfers competing in the second heat of the day were pulled from the water and competition was delayed for 15 minutes until the shark made its way further down the coast.
Making a one-off return to the tour, Fanning advanced from his three-man heat in the morning to set up a round of 32 meeting with Ferreira.
The Brazilian, who won the Newcastle Cup earlier this month, laid down successive scores of 6.5 with his trademark aerial rotations impressing the judges.
After posting a 5.5 Fanning needed a big finish but the 39-year-old wasn’t able to dial up a winning wave. He still proved a crowd favourite with fans swamping him on the shoreline.
Coming out of retirement for the event so that his young family could see him compete, Fanning said he had enjoyed the brief comeback.
“It’s been fun, to show the family, it’s been special,” Fanning said. “I was hoping that last wave lined up but it went all wonky. It was one last shot but it was a dud bullet.”
In other results both of Australia’s Olympic representatives, Owen Wright and Julian Wilson, also bowed out in the round of 32.
Wilson was another casualty of giant-killing Australian rookie Morgan Cibilic, who upset John John Florence in Newcastle. Both surfers were starved of good waves, with Cibilic, who finished third in Newcastle, only catching two but they both scored high enough to secure the win.
Wright was eliminated by another young Australian Ethan Ewing in a tight contest. The women’s event is set to continue on Monday.