smooth hound
File picture: It is believed that Rich Thomson was attacked by a smooth-hound shark. JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images

A Devon man is believed to be the first surfer attacked by a shark in the UK after he was forced into fighting off a shark off the coast of Devon.

Chemistry teacher Rich Thomson said he was surfing off Bantham beach in south Devon when a 1m (3ft) long shark grabbed him by the leg.

The 30-year-old was left with a bruised leg and cuts to his hands after he repelled the attack by striking the head of the fish.

Experts believe the shark may have been a smooth hound that can grow up to 2m (6.5ft) and predominately live in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

It is believed that this is the first attack on a UK surfer and despite the shock of the incident Thomson said he will not be put off going back in the water.

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

"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."

Thomson's believes that his winter wetsuit may have protected him from a more serious injury rather than the bruises he was left with.

"I turned round and saw this little shark was on my thigh and wriggling its head side to side," he told the BBC. "I hit it on the head and it swam off. My hand was cut to pieces."

Common smooth hound sharks frequent both inshore and offshore habitats but usually stay between 50m and 5m below the surface.

Thomson's pupils, where he works at the Kinsgbridge Community College, have bought their brave teacher shark-themed ties and have dubbed him "Sharkbait" and "Nemo".

His wife was also seemingly just as sympathetic.

"I went home and told my wife I was late because I had been bitten by a shark," he said. "She said 'I've heard that one before', but it was true."

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