By Jay Vilarrubi-Smith
Yesterday Mick Fanning put on a classic display of competitive surfing to take out the 2016 J-Bay Open.
Yet what looked on the day as a routine Fanning win – great wave selection and some of the best rail work you’ll ever wish to see – was far from so.
The back-story is well known of course, but only by putting into words the adversity the Australian had to overcome, does it become apparent how amazing this victory truly was…
Let’s start from the most recent and work backwards:
Following some insane free-surfing footage the news then surfaced that Fanning had suffered an injury, less than a week before the start of the event.
Whilst an all-time swell filled into the South African coast, Fanning had to sit out of the water and embark on some pretty vigorous treatment.
We were given some regular updates on the high ankle sprain but it wasn’t clear if the injury would fully heal in time for the first heat.
Obviously it did.
Following the heartbreak of just missing out on the world title last year, amidst family tragedy, Fanning announced that he wouldn’t be taking part on the full tour this year.
Instead he has selected his favourite events and taken a deserved break during some others.
To then be able to turn on the competitive fire at the click of a switch and beat younger and hungrier competitors, is a testament to Fanning’s professionalism.
You don’t become a three-time world champion without being a well-rounded surfer. Yet he is certainly part of the old-school generation in which a good power hack holds more weight than an air reverse.
To come through Julian Wilson and John John Florence on finals day, two of the world’s best new-school surfers, by relying on his trademark speed and style deserves a ton of credit.
With the way the tour and the judging criteria is heading, to be able to win an event without going to the air is a rarity, and something which should be treasured.
The Shark in the Room
Okay so there’s no point avoiding the most obvious factor any longer. Almost a year to the day from being attacked by a shark, Fanning returned to the same line-up to take out the event.
It was during last year’s final with Julian Wilson that Fanning had to fend off a Great White and few would have blamed him for never returning to Jefferies Bay.
Few would have blamed him for never returning to the sea again!
Yet Mick maintained that he always intended to return to J-Bay, even whilst some of his competitors expressed their doubts.
To return to the scene and win the event, will probably allow him to draw some kind of line under what happened. The fact that he faced off against Julian in the semi-finals was probably a very poignant moment for him too.
“I’m just stoked that I actually got to come back and right the wrong – that was my whole plan, was to just to right to wrongs that happened last year. And we did that now, so we can move on.” Mick Fanning
It’s a sign of the man’s courage, conviction and integrity that he didn’t let what happened last year put him off returning to the J-Bay Open. The fact that he won the event with his mother watching on from the beach truly marks him out as one-of-a-kind.