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He’s a 3x WSL World Champion. His nickname is “White Lightning.” He’s surfed under the northern lights. He’s punched a friggin' shark.
He’s Michael Eugene "Mick" Fanning AO.
Anyone that’s ever had anything to do with surfing knows that name but, for those that don’t and for the many that already honor his career, we’ve put together a little piece below that offers a look back at the pro surfer’s beginnings, his triumphs, his tragedies, and more.
Born in Penrith, South Wales, Australia on June 13, 1981, Mick Fanning first took up the sport at the tender age of five. However, it wasn’t until his mom’s job took them to the Gold Coast that Fanning’s love for the sport really blossomed.
Growing up with future professional surfer, Joel Parkinson, and attending school together at Palm Beach Currumbin State High in New South Wales, Fanning’s focus on the surf only intensified. He now had access to the Queensland points, quickly establishing himself as one of the best in the area by securing a top-three finish at the 1996 Australian National Titles. However, his professional aspirations didn’t truly become fueled until the tragic automobile-related death of his older brother, Sean, in 1998. This would stand as perhaps the defining impetus behind the rest of his career—the singular driving force for all that would come.
After winning the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach in 2001 following a wildcard entry (a place that would become one of his all-time favorites), he broke through by winning the Billabong Pro at Jeffrey's Bay and nabbing the 2002 Rookie of the Year award. This paved the way for his earning a spot on the 2002 Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour as World Qualifying Series (WQS) Champion.
Although he suffered a hamstring injury in 2004, it would prove but a minor setback before Fanning launched himself into the surfing stratosphere. He’d go on to win the WSL Championship Tour three times (2007, 2009, 2013). He’d also win his first World Qualification Series (WQS) victory in Hawaiian surf at the December 2015 Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach, Oahu.
In February 2008, Fanning announced his retirement from the WSL World Championship Tour. In his pro career spanning 2001-2018, Fanning nabbed a total of 22 WSL Tour wins and, in 2017, was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia for his international surfing prowess as well as his charitable endeavors.
In case you somehow missed the hubbub some time back, yes, Mick Fanning did survive a shark encounter. And yes, he did punch the shark. A couple of times.
The incident occurred at the World Surf League’s 2015 J-Bay Open in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. As he prepped to catch a wave off the East Cape, a very large shark swam up out of the blue, biting Fanning’s leash straight off. Fortunately, Fanning survived uninjured.
Video of the famous incident:
“Even when I was coming 4th or 5th, we were all so far behind Kelly and Andy we didn’t know how to beat them. Then I finished the two years in a row as third and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m done with this, I’m going to skip second and win.”
“I can be surfing the exact same wave and then sometimes something will just set off, even if I'm riding the same board the whole time. Something will just set off and it just feels like you can push just that extra bit harder.”
“Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes surfing this bank from Snapper to Kirra, sometimes you don't even think what you're doing but you do it anyway ... You get to the end of a wave and go, what did I do? Sometimes you go into a totally different state of mind.”
"It all came down to one wave. There's not much you can do when the luck doesn't go your way."
“Sometimes I wish I had every different sort of board that I could just bring out for this surf when I feeling like surfing this board. I love riding old single fins and twin fins.”
“Some people have like a certain person, when they're around they get like a gnarly energy. I see it in other people, if a certain person's around they compete really well or something like that. I think it's sort of like that.”
“As for choosing to retire at Bells, I've always had in mind that my last event on Tour was going to be Bells. That's basically where I started my career, it was my first ever CT win, and I feel really connected down there.”