Professional surfer, Mick Fanning, has made an incredible escape after encountering a shark during a major competition in South Africa.

The three-time world champion, a finalist in the J-Bay Open, was knocked off his board into the sea by a shark in the opening minutes of the final heat and forced to fight for his life.

Fanning, the defending champion, punched the shark twice before being fished out of the water by a safety boat that came rushing to his aid.

Fanning – nicknamed ‘White Lightning’ – managed to fight off the shark before making his way to the safety of a boat that came rushing to his aid.

“I was just sitting there and I felt something just get stuck in my leg rope, and I was kicking trying to get it away,” Fanning told Fox Sports.

“I just saw fins. I was waiting for the teeth.”

Fanning, a three-time world champion, said he was able to “get a punch into its back” and startle it.

Organisers of the J-Bay Open, the sixth stop on the 2015 Samsung Galaxy World Surf League Championship Tour, cancelled the remainder of the event citing the risk of another shark attack as “too high.” 

Fanning and fellow competitor, Julian Wilson, decided to take equal second in rankings points and split the prize purse awarded to the winner.