Mick Fan­ning

How he fought of a shark – and Ellen Degeneres – to stake his claim as the coun­try’s most recog­nis­i­ble sports­man, one vy­ing for surfng im­mor­talit and a fourth world ti­tle.

GQ (Australia) - - NEWS -

In 2013, the sport of surfng was sold for the frst time in 30 years. Two gents, one an Amer­i­can foot­ball mar­ket­ing hon­cho, the other, Kelly Slater’s man­ager, bought the bro­ken, then in­cum­bent As­so­ci­a­tion of Surfng Pro­fes­sion­als, re­launch­ing as The World Surf League in 2014. Sam­sung se­cured the nam­ing rights and fur­ther deals with Face­book, Youtube, ESPN and Fox Sports, among oth­ers, were also quickly penned. The en­demic surf brands came on­board, some more re­luc­tantly than oth­ers. For the frst time, pro­fes­sional surfng had di­rec­tion – set to be­come world-class, di­rect-to-con­sumer en­ter­tain­ment, de­liv­ered in real time. But hon­cho and man­ager could never have pre­dicted that a lone surfer would do more to grow the sport in 15 sec­onds than the en­tire com­pany could achieve in years. It just so hap­pened to be in the most hor­rifc live scenes imag­in­able. And it could’ve ended the sport for­ever, had that shark not missed Aus­tralian surfer Mick Fan­ning dur­ing the Jef­freys Bay fnal in South Africa this July. While more than 22 mil­lion peo­ple (and count­ing) have viewed that clip on Youtube, the in­ci­dent, alone, is not what makes Fan­ning. Fend­ing off a fe­ro­cious sea crea­ture and es­cap­ing death is in­deed wor­thy – but so too is at­tack­ing a fourth world ti­tle with an­other shark, in the form of Kelly Slater, still go­ing round.

GQ: Has the at­tack changed the way you look at surf­ing? Mick Fan­ning: I guess it’s more away from surfng. It’s re­it­er­ated the fact that we’re only here for a short time. Near-death mo­ments hap­pen to a lot of peo­ple. It makes you pull the reins in and look at what’s go­ing on around you. It’s not like you have to change every­thing, but you make ad­just­ments. I’ve re­alised if there’s some­thing I want to do, I just do it. And I’ve made sure I show peo­ple in my life that I care about them. GQ: Are there still haunt­ing mo­ments in the qui­eter hours?

MF: The frst few days when I got home were pretty heavy. I was get­ting fash­backs. Now, it’s slowly be­com­ing fewer and fur­ther be­tween. When I frst got back in the wa­ter, I was re­ally on edge – I was jump­ing at shad­ows, lit­tle bits of white­wash, splashes on the sur­face. I’m a lot more aware now. It feels like I see every­thing in the ocean, which can be good, but it can also be bad for try­ing to switch off and re­lax.

GQ: Ev­ery­one seems to have a the­ory on what hap­pened that day – what’s yours?

MF: I think the shark was ac­tu­ally go­ing for my board. That’s all I can re­ally elab­o­rate on. We’ll never know, but my in­stinct says it was go­ing for my board, and un­for­tu­nately I was on top.

GQ: Or for­tu­nately…

MF: Yeah, a bit of both [laughs].

GQ: Do you think surf­ing’s grown as a sport in light of the in­ci­dent? MF: As much as it sucks, yeah, surfng has hit a whole new level. If I’m walk­ing through any air­port, ran­dom peo­ple will come up and go, ‘Oh, you’re that guy.’ I just think that mo­ment, be­ing cap­tured on TV, and how fast it got sent around the world, it blew up like noth­ing we’ve seen. A lot more peo­ple are in­ter­ested in and are fol­low­ing surfng be­cause of it.

GQ: And what about Ju­lian Wil­son [who came to Fan­ning’s aid dur­ing the at­tack]. Have you guys had time to di­gest what hap­pened to­gether?

MF: We spoke about it when we frst got home but since then we want to keep it fun and en­joy the time. I haven’t re­ally seen him but I’m sure there’s some emo­tional stuff in­side too, which he’d be able to tell you more about. It was a scary mo­ment for a lot of peo­ple.

GQ: We’ve heard ru­mours that Ellen Degeneres, Jimmy Fal­lon and Jimmy Kim­mel called want­ing you on their shows – Degeneres will­ing to fly you to LA in her pri­vate jet? MF: Well, they didn’t ring me per­son­ally [laughs].

GQ: Each of your ti­tles have been won at the back end of the sea­son, as op­posed to an early lead. Are you feel­ing that kick again this year? MF: Yeah, I found some good form go­ing into J-bay. In Tahiti my prepa­ra­tion was pretty bad – there was so much go­ing on af­ter J-bay. But with how busy the line-up is at Tres­tles [Cal­i­for­nia], I went early and all the things I usu­ally rush through, I took my time with. I have per­sonal goals and if I pull those off, then awe­some. If not and I lose, awe­some. I still get to go surfng and en­joy what I’m do­ing.

GQ: World ti­tle or not, it has to be the big­gest year of your life.

MF: Oh, for sure. Even if I don’t win, it’s been a crazy 12 months. You never think some­thing like that will hap­pen. We’ve all lost loved ones, but to have an in­ci­dent that I was able to walk away from and have no scars and it just be a men­tal re­cov­ery, it’s been a big emo­tional ride. n

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