By Jay Vilarrubi-Smith
Most athletes have a defining season. A year in their career which stands above the rest, to be remembered long after retirement.
2015 will go down as Mick Fanning’s year.
It seems strange to make such a statement when the facts say Fanning’s three world titles came in 2007, 2009 and 2013 and that Adriano de Souza just became 2015 champion.
Yet life doesn’t happen on paper.
Sport is often about more than the recorded winner, and Fanning emerged victorious in a much deeper way than just winning heats.
“A friend told me once we can deal with anything, you’ve just got to do it the best you can and stay true to yourself, and things will happen.”
Now Mick has been admired worldwide for decades, both for his lightning quick surfing in the water, and the way he conducts himself on land.
And as anyone who has seen “Fanning the Fire” will know, he has experienced personal tragedy before; losing his brother Sean in a car accident in 1998.
But this year Fanning has had to deal with so much, and in such a public way, that it’s unbelievable how he has managed to stay professional and surf arguably as well as he ever has.
Starting the year out with a fifth place at Snapper, followed by winning his fourth bell in the Rip Curl Pro, Fanning made his title potential clear from off.
A couple of events later, Mick was ploughing his way through the field at the J-Bay Open en route to the final.
And then it happened.
The craziest moment in competition surfing history and a day in which the world could have lost Mick Fanning forever.
Mick and Julian shared the points but more importantly they shared a moment in history which will forever be remembered.
An actual shark attack.
The way in which Mick handled the whole situation was admirable. The fact he even tried to punch the shark is pretty damn heroic.
“I just saw the fin, I didn’t see the teeth. I was waiting for the teeth to come at me as I was swimming … I punched it in the back.”
The video’s emerging of him talking about the incident, and then eventually getting back into the sea, really showed us his vulnerability and humanity. The whole world was on-board team Mick.
And just two events later he took down the Hurley Pro at Trestles and gained the rankings lead. Immediately dispelling any concerns about any lasting damage.A fairly average European leg ensured we were in for an almighty showdown at Pipe but Mick’s first ever win at Sunset was a sign of how focused he was.
He was ready to take his fourth world title.
Yet sometimes life likes to throw certain challenges at us. And there doesn’t get many more extreme challenges than finding out another of your older brothers has passed away, especially not on the morning of the most important day in the season.
“Today was one of the most challenging days of my life but I knew I could find the strength to take part in the final event of the season because that’s what Pete would have wanted.”
Reports started to trickle in about the death of Peter Fanning as the penultimate day of the Pipe masters kicked off. But Mick surfed out of his skin to beat some of the best surfers at Pipe, including taking down Kelly and John-John in one of the best heats there’s ever been.
Visibly emotional in his post-heat surfs, it was incredible to witness an athlete performing at their peak, hours after hearing of the death of a loved one.
As events transpired, Mick ultimately fell short of taking the title. Failing to make it pass Medina and his aerial antics, handed the title to Adriano.
Yet the fact that Mick kept his concentration, dignity and class in the face of the worst tragedy a human can experience, sealed his reputation.
“I think Mick deserved it more than me. To be in the world title race against him was a pleasure, even if I would have lost. He has had so many personal things going on but he is such a true champion.”
Adriano de Souza.
Adriano is a worthy world champion, but there’s only one true winner from this year; Mick Fanning.
If reports are true, Fanning is considering his future on tour.
If 2015 is to be his last, it shows in a nutshell the qualities of the man. Both in the water, and on land.