Surfer ready to return to water after fighting off shark near Devon beach

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A surfer has described how he hit a shark on the head after it bit him on the leg while he was in the water off a Devon beach.

Teacher Rich Thomson, 30, estimated the shark was about 3ft (1m) long while experts said it was the first incident of its type involving surfers in UK waters.

Mr Thomson said the shark "grabbed me on the leg" at Bantham in South Devon and he turned to see a "little shark" on his thigh, wriggling it head from side to side.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "I hit it on the head and it swam off. My hand was cut to pieces."

The chemistry teacher, who said he thought his thick winter wetsuit protected him from being injured more seriously, said he had been left with a "sizeable bruise about three inches across".

"I went home and told my wife I was late because I had been bitten by a shark," he added.

"She said 'I've heard that one before', but it was true."

"It won't stop me going back in the water and it shouldn't stop anyone, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Mr Thomson said pupils at Kingsbridge Community College, where he teaches, had bought him shark ties and have dubbed him Sharkbait and Nemo.

"I have never caught any fish while fishing but the biggest one I've ever caught attached itself to my leg," he said.

Wildlife publisher and illustrator Marc Dando said he thought the shark was probably a smooth hound.

The smooth hound, found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from the British Isles to South Africa and in the Mediterranean, can grow up to 6.5ft (2m) but usually do not grow bigger than 5ft (1.5m).

Of Mr Thomson's experience Mr Dando said: "It would be a shock because all sharks have powerful jaws.

"All sharks can be very territorial. It was probably just telling the person to go away and struck out."

Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Plymouth-based Shark Trust said the small shark "would likely have been disorientated" by the "turbid, dynamic water" of the river mouth.

"British waters are home to a wide diversity of sharks with a number of coastal species such as smooth hound, tope and cat sharks often reported by beach goers and water users," she said.

Both she and Mr Thomson said they had not heard of a shark of any sort biting a surfer in British waters.