world champion surfer
Surfing legend Mick Fanning.
You’re known as a down-to-earth bloke, but do you have any secret diva demands?
No. I just need my equipment: surfboards; wetsuits; leg ropes; wax; sunscreen; exercise rollers – and I don’t rely on other people to bring them for me. If you can’t do it yourself, you can’t expect someone else to do it [for you]. When I was first on tour I was really superstitious, using the same pack of wax for the whole event, but now I try to eliminate those [habits] so you don’t become dependent on anything. As you get along with life, you realise it’s all in your head.
In July you won the World Surf League event at Jeffreys Bay, the site of your shark encounter last year. How long does the high last from a win like that?
When you win an event, it always stays with you for a long time, but it’s not like you’re baking yourself a cake every day and celebrating. By the next week, you’re replaying things that happened. I like to go back and see how it played out – but when you win, you aren’t too critical of yourself.
What strikes the most fear into you: sharks, groin injuries or Kelly Slater?
Probably groin injuries. You never want to be injured. The other two are scary, but not that scary.
Kelly said last year’s semi-final at J-bay was the only time he was happy to lose to you – if he’d won, he’d have been fighting the shark instead. Are you a good loser?
In hindsight, that was good for him! You learn over the years that losing isn’t that bad. If you do your best, whatever the outcome is, you’ve got to be happy with yourself.
You were praised for your courage in returning to the surf. But how are you with spiders and heights?
Spiders, fine; heights, fine; snakes, not so much. I get petrified of snakes. Look, I’m just the same as everyone else – I’m not the bravest human on earth. You just have to put things in perspective; some things that happen in the ocean are hopefully a one-off.
With that moment – and with your wins – you joined the pantheon of surfing greats. How does that feel?
I would never put myself in that category. I don’t do it for other people’s recognition, I do it because I love it, so I can’t put myself in that realm – it feels a bit weird.
This year’s win must have been a great moment to cap off a terrible 12 months for you [after Fanning’s shark encounter, his brother died in December 2015, and he announced his divorce in February].
There was a little bit that happened, but people focused on the bad things. I learnt a lot about myself and learnt to grow within myself. With all the media attention, I was happy to disappear, recharge the batteries and see what happens next.
There was a public outpouring of support for you when your
“You have to [have] perspective; some things that happen in the ocean are hopefully a one-off”
brother passed away. Does that help, or is grieving in public harder? It’s awesome when you know so many people are there to support you. I had amazing friends and family in my corner, too. It wasn’t something that I wanted – to be in the public eye at that time – but it was great to have that support. What’s more satisfying: a big win or a perfect morning surfing at home? That’s changed over the past few years. When I was younger, the win was more satisfying, but now it’s more about just surfing and enjoying the moment. You haven’t participated in the full championship tour this year – what have you been up to? I went to Alaska, then Lord Howe Island, then Melbourne’s Good Beer Week – things I wouldn’t get to do if I was on tour full-time. Surfing in Alaska was cold – the first jump in really hurts – but the excitement level is so high and wetsuits are so good now… plus, once you’re moving, you warm up quick. It helped me get perspective on what I want to do and what I’m here for. It was a chance to stop, get off the grid and do things on my time, rather than a set schedule. After the announcement that surfing will be a sport at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, you offered to coach competitors. Won’t you be competing yourself? Who knows? Four years is a long time. If I’m still competitive at that age, maybe I’ll put my hand up to compete, but I’m being realistic. There will be younger guys who are surfing a lot better than me at that stage, and I’d feel awkward if I took that away from them. But it would be awesome to be part of the team – maybe I’ll get the pompoms and cheer for them on the beach. What might life after surfing competitions look like? I’m still enjoying surfing. Doing trips like I did this year reiterated that there’s more to life than competing day in and day out. So my goal this year is to put myself in a place I never thought I’d get to – if there’s a really cool trip, yeah, I’ll go. And I’m going to do some cool things with environmental groups. Perhaps your mate Chris Hemsworth could put in a word for you, and you could be Marvel’s new superhero? Mister Invisible, maybe. I think I’ve got a rough head. Nah, Chris is a lot better at that stuff than I’ll ever be, so I’ll leave that to him.
´´with all the media attention, I was happy to disappear and recharge the batteries´´