A young British medical doctor who went surfing at a beach in Australia is counting his blessings after he had to punch a shark in the face to escape being eaten alive.

The 25-year-old, named in local media as Charlie Fry, was surfing with three of his friends at Avoca Beach in New South Wales state north of Sydney on Monday when the shark "jumped out of the water and hit him in the right shoulder".

"I saw a shark's head come out of the water, with its teeth, and I just punched it in the face," Fry told commercial broadcaster Channel Nine on Tuesday.

"It was just pure adrenaline, I genuinely thought I was going to die, like 'you're about to be eaten alive by a shark', so everything slowed down, like 'get on your board and surf'."

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The young man thought the shark was up to six feet long although a local helicopter rescue service said later that a three metre great white shark and a three metre bronze whaler shark were spotted off Avoca.

Fry, who was able to surf back to the beach with his friends, was not seriously hurt and initially did not even realise he had been bitten.

"I didn't feel the teeth going in, it felt like I was smacked, it felt like a hand, a hand grabbing me, shaking me," he said, calling the attack a "close call".

"It could have easily taken my hand. I count myself very lucky," he added.

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