The Steely Nerve of Mick Fanning

By Tyler Rock

Interview By Mike Latronic 

It came down to the final day of the final event of the year. Mick and Kelly. The consistent machine vs the freak. Who would take the title. With his back up against the wall for two heats in a row, needing to make it to the semi-finals to clinch his third World Title, Mick did what champions do; he never gave up, never quit and kept fighting until the end. And at solid Pipe, that’s easier said than done. But, the champion he is, Mick knows the importance of stepping up in Hawaii.

“I put so much emphasis on Hawaii. For us it’s grand final day. It’s Superbowl. If you go over history and you go through all the different things that have happened here- Kelly winning his 6th world title at Pipe, going on to beat everyone, the Tom Carroll snap at Pipe, Occy winning at Pipe- there’s so many amazing things that happen on that stretch of beach right there its… yeah, ya know it’s the birth place of surfing. And I still feel it has that tradition and I feel that there’s still things that need to be done out here. But in saying that, I think Pipeline’s probably one of the only places that still dictates what can be done. We ride shorter boards everywhere else around the world but every time we come to Hawaii, you’ve gotta ride the big boards. And that’s it. You can try to fight it and it doesn’t work. Especially Pipeline, you have to ride the right size board to not only get in the wave but have the drive to get through the barrel. I think that tradition will stay forever.”

For Mick this year, the title essentially came down to one wave. In the dying moments of his quarterfinal heat, needing a high 9-point ride, Mick slid into a double up roll in, faded off the bottom and stalled through a perfect peeling section. It was flawless surfing, but did the wave pack enough punch to give him the needed score to advance and clinch the title? It was close and with the judges deliberating, Mick hit the beach still wondering.

“Personally I knew that the wave in the quarter was better than my one against CJ in the 5th round. So I knew it was up there. But in saying that, I didn’t know how it would compare with how good the waves got. My heart was already half ripped out because every time I wait for a score I never get it. So yeah my heart was already half ripped out. But I guess I was just looking at people that I fully trusted, like Parko and Taylor (Knox)… and then I was looking at Occy in the booth and I was like ‘Oh God’. I know they would give me an honest opinion. Yeah I don’t know what I was thinking.  I was just like…  are you going to give it to me or not? Just hurry up, rip it off like a band-aid already.”

As the score was announced, a wave of emotion came over Mick as all the build up and tension drained out of him. Looking back at the year that brought Mick his third World Title, it was machine like consistency and sheer determination that made the difference. Finishing in the quarters and beyond at all but one World Tour event, nobody maintained the constant competitive level of Mick. But the silver lining in it all seemed to be just having fun with it.

“At the start of 2012 I made a goal that I wanted to put two really good years together. I feel like I go up and down, like I have one good year and then one bad year. And so that was my goal, I really wanted to put two years together. Career-wise it was… yeah I felt like it went that way. You obviously have the goal of winning the world title but it wasn’t the big end all for me, it was just enjoying what I was doing. That was the biggest goal for sure.”

But what is the formula for such consistency? Mick’s work ethic is no secret. As one of the most fit surfers on tour, there’s not much weakness in his game. But as any champ knows, constant improvement is the only way to stay ahead of the curve.

“I think that’s the thing, you’re always fine-tuning. You’re always trying to improve yourself in every different way. The time that you don’t want to keep improving I think that’s the time when you got to step away. Let it be free surfing or… or even just an event. I guess you really want to just be up to do your best surfing when it matters. That’s been a huge goal of mine… ever since I started competing, I was just trying to be up to do the best surfing I possibly could do at that time. It’s like anything. You need to put in the hard work, the dedication… but also too you’ve got to be open and accepting that you’ve got to learn and grow as a person as well. Everyone does it differently, everyone has their own way of approaching it, but for me, it’s just… each day I wake up I just want to be the best person I can possibly be. Not only for me but for my wife and my family and my friends.” 

With the current level of progressive surfing, refinement is key. Heat wins don’t come easy and new threats are always mounting. But while the younger crop are getting inverted, Mick knows to stick to his strengths.

“To tell you the truth I wake up each day and… if I’ve got a heat I look at the person that I’ve got and sometimes I’m clueless on how to beat them. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. You try and come up with a game plan that you think works and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think in the last sort of 5 years, surfing’s progressed like crazy. Not only on the world tour, but you have a look at guys paddling into huge waves at Jaws, and the way the aerial surfers have gone and taken their tricks from pretty much skateboard ramps to the waves. I’m such a huge fan of everyone and what they’re doing. I always take a step back at events or even just in videos and admire the way that everyone keeps pushing the boundaries. It’s incredible. I look at those guys and what they’re doing, and the aerialists. I know that if I ever did an air as good as Gabe Medina, I’d be like… I dunno… that’d be like my best all time. But also too I think I’m a tradionalist. My heroes are power surfers. Taylor Knox, Sunny Garcia, Tom Carroll, they’re just pure power and pure essence. You know you can do an air or whatever, and to me it doesn’t feel as good as doing a great hack or a great carve. That to me is just… being on edge, putting your board on edge and feeling all the things that are going on at that time, that’s the thing that I really love.”

In Hawaii, it’s the traditional power approach that tends to hold the most weight. And at Pipe, anyone is capable of dropping a 10, especially Kelly Slater. For Mick, waiting for Kelly to lose wasn’t an option.

“I don’t want someone else to lose. You want to go on and win. You want to go and just do what you can do. You want to achieve those goals. I guess for me, if I had to sit on the beach I would have been a nervous wreck. It was emotional enough as it was, ya know the way that it happened. But to sit there and hope that someone else doesn’t have a great day, man that’s the worst feeling in the world. I hope that everyone has a great day.“

“The biggest fear going for a world title, the thing that you try and do as best as you possibly can, is get Kelly out of the race before you get to Hawaii. I don’t know what it is but you feel like you can match up with people if you’ve got a go in Hawaii. But with him? He’s just phenomenal. He’s seriously the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen. He goes to this other level and he has different ways of winning. He has a way of showmanship when he’s relaxed and he’s happy and it’s all going his way. But then he has this other way of winning where he’s just determined. And we don’t see that all the time I don’t think, like when he wins events. But yesterday he was determined to do what he needed to do and he was so on point it was incredible to watch.”

Mick is now in a special class of surfers with multiple World Titles to his name. He has established himself as a perennial threat in all conditions, both big and small, but there’s more to this surfer than fiberglass and wax. With his accomplishments, Mick is keen to step out of himself and do a little something more.

“Taylor Knox tells me this every time, ‘surfing is just something that we do it’s not who we are.’ And so once you take off the leg rope or you put the board down you’ve got to be just like everyone else in the world. You’ve got to go apply yourself in just being good. Every year you get to the end of the year and you reflect on what happened in the past and for us we try and reinvent ourselves. We add things, we delete things. And I think for me personally, I’ve got improvements to make everywhere. Not only in the things I do well now, but things that I want to do. I think you’ve got to keep trying to be better. Always. And if you don’t, then you’ve got to readjust and maybe have a sit down and think about trying to be better in the things that you do. But yeah I guess one of my greatest passions is I want to go and help people to grow. I’ve done camps with kids and I want to give them the experience that I’ve had. Not in a selfish way like talking about me, but I just want to give them an experience and then see how they deal with it. That really excites me to see how kids grow. And you learn a lot about yourself too by going through those different things and just sharing those things with people.”

While Mick’s surfing may have seemingly reached maturity, he continues to improve both in and out of the water. As a champ, a role model and a professional surfer, one might think Mick has it all. But the reality is, Mick just wants to be happy. And right now, being in the water and wearing a contest jersey, that’s what makes Mick happy.

“It is an awesome lifestyle, but it’s like anything else, it’s hard work. Yeah we get to come out and see the most beautiful places on earth, but it’s hard work. It’s one of those things where you’ve really got to stop yourself to go and smell the roses. For me, personally I have a lot of fun with what I do. These last couple years have been really enjoyable. But in saying that I could walk away tomorrow and be happy. The cameras, the titles and all that sort of stuff, it doesn’t mean as much to me as just being happy. If you’re truly happy you don’t need anything. You’ve got everything that’s inside you. You just got to apply yourself in life. I’d still keep surfing, but I could walk away. Seriously. But I’m enjoying what I’m doing. So as long as I’ve still got a smile on my face I’ll keep doing it.”



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