Iconic Surfer Mick Fanning on time away, the best Tour stop and The Search

Photo: Corey Wilson

From the casual surf enthusiast to the most dedicated fan, Mick Fanning is a living legend. One of the sport’s most widely recognized names, the Gold Coast resident is back in the midst of a title run, looking stronger every event. As the 3-time world champion gets ready to defend his title at J-Bay, in South Africa, we wanted to revisit his recent office visit where he was kind enough to chat about the Tour, the virtue of time off, and that wave in The Search.

Dragon: So, it’s nice to have some time off?
Mick Fanning: Yeah, it’s always good when you have six weeks back-to-back, just to get away for a bit and take the mind off it. It’s pretty grueling. Everyday you’re waking up and you have to make sure you’re at 100-percent; emotionally and physically. It’s good to step away from the beach for a little bit and do something different.

DR: This is your 16th year on tour, how is it? To have to be ready physically, mentally and emotionally everyday to compete?
MF: It does take its toll, you know? I had four years back-to-back where I was in a title race every year. Then by the end of that, I was pretty drained, you know? I didn’t want to get up, didn’t want to train, didn’t want to go surfing. I just had to have a breather. That was what last year was all about. Doing something different. Also, when you’re going through all those stages, you’re making progress; evolving your game and evolving your surfing. And then mentally, you’re always looking for something different. It’s always good to just stop, take a breather and look at [surfing] in a different light.

DR: Things have changed a lot since your first couple years on the tour.
MF: It’s definitely different. When I first got on tour, it was more of a party scene, you know? Everyone was there for a good time. It was hilarious; so much fun. Then it started getting more and more professional. Back in the day we sort of used to all travel together and sort of be more companions. Now everyone has their own little entourage. It’s a lot more personalized for each person. Obviously, we all catch up at the end of events or whatever, but it’s definitely a lot more professional and a lot more personalized.

And the surfing level you see now is just incredible. You wouldn’t think of people doing huge airs at Bells and all kinds of weird stuff is going on.

Mick @ Snapper Rocks. Photo: Andrew Shield

DR: How are you feeling this year?
MF: To be totally honest, I didn’t really think too much about going back in. I thought I could do the same thing and just fall straight back into where I was. But once I was doing it, I didn’t feel right. I felt like I was forcing something. So after [Western Australia] I was like, let’s change all this or else you’re never going to last. You won’t last six months. So I scrapped everything and just started again. I did that for Bells and I felt way better. More mentally and physically there. Just didn’t put so much pressure on the little things. Just, “Get ready in the morning,” and that was enough. Before it was like, “Preparation [is] key, have to be ready to go at any minute.” Now I can just switch it on a lot quicker and lighter. I’m feeling way more energized.

DR: To be fair, you’ve had some pretty tough early heats this year. [ed note: Kelly Slater in Rd. 1 at Snapper Rocks, Rd. 1 at Margies, and Rd. 3 at Bells Beach]
MF: I guess that’s where my seeding is because I only did half the Tour last year. My seeding was pretty low. So running into those top guys early… it’s great. I want to surf against those guys. I don’t look at it as a burden. So having Kelly in round 3 at Bells… I was psyched. Bring it on.

I think that they are the people I want to push myself against. Win or lose you know you’re going out there to put on your best performance. So that’s excites me at the moment, for sure.

DR: As the Tour leaves Australia, is there somewhere you’re looking forward to the most?
MF: I think everyone has the most fun when we go to Fiji. It’s sort of like camp vibes where everyone hangs out. You’re bunking in rooms together. It’s pretty awesome. I share a room with Ace [Adrian Buchan] and Parko [Joel Parkinson]. Just the stories, you know? It’s like going back to camp, You turn the lights out but everyone is still telling stories in bed. [laughs] It’s just comedy. It’s a place where everyone connects, too. We’re all eating together and surfing together, you find out a lot more about people and it brings that camaraderie back. It’s more personal for the surfers.

Photo: Corey Wilson

DR: You’ve known Owen Wright forever, was it cool watching him win [at Snapper Rocks]?
MF: Definitely. You know, I was right there when it happened. When the injury happened.

DR: At Pipeline?
MF: Yeah yeah. I was In the room when the ambulance came and when he came out of the hospital. He could barely walk. We had to pick him up and put him in the shower and stuff like that. It was pretty heavy.

Then throughout the year just kind of caught up with him… Seeing him become a dad, as well. It was really emotional. And then to see him go on and win…

Me and him had a heat together in that first event. We’re just standing there and I gave him a hug before we paddled out and I’m just overwhelmed with emotion. Like I wanted to start crying then and there. Just to see him with a jersey on was incredible. I’m so proud of how much he’s pushed himself to get back to where he is. It’s just awesome to see a friend come back from an injury like that.

Photo: Corey Wilson

DR: Stories like that are what supersede everything.
MF: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been traveling with Owen… I think I took him on a trip too West Aus when he was 14. He was this skinny, little string bean. We’ve been doing trips since then. Just to see him grow has been hilarious. Obviously, growing up with Parko, too. He’s been one of my best friends and rivals over the years. So you have these friendships that are bigger than the actual sport.

DR: Rip Curl’s The Search… that wave was insane.
MF: It was one of those things where a friend just showed me a picture and he was like, “I can take you there… IF you [adhere] to these rules.” I’ll do anything [laughs] I didn’t even know where we were going. He was like, “You have to fly out on this day,” and even 12 hours before I didn’t know where I was flying to or anything. And when I landed in the country I still was like, “Where are we going? North, South, East or West?” [laughs] But it was incredible. Such an awesome experience. Just to get so lost in a place that you didn’t know about, it was really really cool. To be a passenger and have no expectations. Just going off a photo. It was awesome.

DR: They said you’re the fourth or fifth person to surf that wave.
MF: I don’t know the exact number but it was very, very low. I’m so lucky. Hopefully, one day I’ll get to take friends there. Until then I’ll just go by myself. [laughs]

DR: A couple weeks and it’s back to Brazil?
MF: Yeah, a couple weeks until Brazil. Brazil is always a hard one to get motivated for. It’s at a place that I haven’t been to since my first year on Tour. So it’ll be cool to see how it has changed. Then we have the good leg: Fiji, J-Bay, Teahupo’o, then Trestles. It’ll be really fun.

Follow Mick on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Stop four of the CT, the Oi Rio Pro, starts on May 9th. Visit the WSL Event site to find all the action.