A Ghost In The Shadows
Mick Fanning’s early form on this years tour is showing similar signs to his 2007 World Title campaign - without the hype. A haunting thought for those hunting the crown.
Interview by Vaughan Blakey
It’s downright weirdbeard to think of Mick Fanning as flying under the radar, but thanks to Kelly Slater’s surprising early round loss and Joel Parkinson’s emphatic victory at the year’s opening World Tour event, the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast, few paid close attention to the clinical brutality of Fanning’s run through to the semis. Until a freak heat against Parko in six foot storm surf at Kirra ended his campaign, Fanning never looked like losing. He consistently opened heats with massive scores, blew the back out of every section that came his way and surfed with a rejuvenated energy and steely focus not seen since his World Title win in ’07. Confident, relaxed and happy with the spotlight shining elsewhere, Mick is perfectly poised to strike from the shadows in ’09. SW caught up with the 28-year-old at his home on the Gold Coast.
Vaughan Blakey: Last time we spoke, we talked about 2008 and how you’d been in cruise control enjoying what you’d achieved the previous year but then also that this year was game back on for you. Are you happy with the way things have panned out so far?
Mick Fanning: Yeah, I had a really good start to the year. Everything was feeling really positive. I had an amazing board and I was feeling fit and confident within myself. I thought I surfed well throughout the first event on the Gold Coast and on the last day it came down to a bit of a lucky dip, you either got them or you didn’t. My heat scores were really good and I was definitely happy with the way everything went.
VB: Did you feel a noticeable difference going into that event in terms of pressure? Last year it was all eyes on you thanks to it being the start of your World Title defence.
MF: I was way more relaxed. Last year was so full on with all the responsibilities and commitments that come with winning a World Championship and I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back I can see that I really didn’t want to be in that space leading into events. This year has been really cool and relaxed in comparison. I have Ronnie Blakey organising my media commitments, which has made a huge difference in keeping aspects of my life outside of surfing running smoothly. But the biggest difference has been that everybody seems to have forgotten about me (laughs). I’ve kind of been stoked about that.
VB: Your semi final against Parko was a ripper. Was it as magic for you guys out in the water as it was for everyone on the beach?
MF: I didn’t really see him that much to be honest. It wasn’t one of those heats where you couldn’t really sit on top of each other and hassle the shit of each other. We were both searching for ages for a place to sit. I think for 20 minutes I just corked around not getting any waves. I didn’t even know he had two good scores under his belt before I’d caught a wave. I think the best thing that happened in that heat was when I broke my board because that allowed me to get back out and see exactly where the spot was. After that it was fun. It was definitely one of those heats where we lifted and pushed each other. I didn’t make any mistakes. It was just his day.
VB: Seeing two guys, childhood friends who grew up surfing Kirra together, trading high 9’s and even a 10 point ride, it had the entire crowd going crazy.
MF: (Laughs) Yeah, well when I saw him take off on that wave, I just knew if he made it he’d be getting a 10 for sure. Then I saw his head pop up way down the point and that was that (laughs).
VB: Parko mentioned during the presso that despite the high scores and incredible tubes it was far from perfect Kirra. Do you agree with that?
MF: The potential of what it could have been if it was proper Kirra just boggles the mind. It was a perfect VBell and if it had been the Kirra of old I’ve got no doubt we would have been trading 10’s instead of 9’s, even though he got a 10 (laughs). It would have been so awesome to see Kirra do its thing, but that’s the way it is. We gotta keep working toward restoring the wave to its former glory.
VB: Have you surfed it much during the recent VBells that have been smashing the Goldy since the Quik Pro?
MF: I surfed it yesterday and it wasn’t that great. It was really fast and a lot of closeouts. There are days out there that have been really good. There will be photos of it going off, but you gotta remember to put it in perspective of how good it could be. It’s a worldclass wave and at the moment it’s pumping but it’s not even close to how good it could be.
VB: Getting back to competition, you’ve said yourself to win a world title you can do all the preparation in the world, but occasionally it’s little bits of luck or close decisions going your way that can make a huge difference to the year. There were two occasions during the Quik Pro where Parko pulled two rabbits from the hat. One in the dying seconds of his heat with Chris Davidson, the other in the Semi against you. Do you sense his fortunes are changing? In the past few years he’s been on the wrong end of close calls.
MF: Yeah you definitely need those things to go your way. The heat against Davo came down to the last 10 seconds I think and he needed a pretty substantial score and he got a really nice barrel and nailed it. Then in the heat with me he got the 10. There have been times where those things have not gone right for Joel, but you know what? He has a lot of heats where things do go his way. I think for Joel it’s more a case of putting a whole solid year together. He always gets good results but then, I don’t know if he loses concentration or what, but he’ll lose a few times and the consistency isn’t there. I’m sure he could win a World Title if he focuses on putting it together over an entire year.
VB: The Surfline website does “Power Rankings” where they critique each guy in the 44 based on his performance in each event. In your critique from the Quik Pro it said: “Part of the trouble with friendships: Even Mick probably wants to believe this is Parko's year.” How true is that?
MF: You know what journalist are like. They make up their own fucken things to suit themselves.
VB: Ha! Glad I’m not one.
MF: Well, the anVBer is no way. First and foremost you want to win for yourself. If you can’t win then sure, you look for your mates to do well. But I know every event I go in I want to do the best I can and that doesn’t mean surfing for second so my mate can win. If I don’t win then I’m stoked if a close friend takes it out, but you’re never gonna lay down for ya mate.
VB: There’s no doubt all eyes are on Parko, and I gather from what you’re saying that suits you fine?
MF: I’m stoked. He can have it (laughs). People always say it doesn’t take a toll on you, but it really does. Having to deal with being the frontrunner adds pressure. So yeah he can have it. It’s a target on your back and it’s tattood there from the moment everyone realises you’re serious about winning the World Title. It’s not only on him though. I’m sure Kelly is pissed off with the way he started so he’s gonna really flare up at Bells. There are a few people who have that target. It’s not just Parko that’s for sure.
VB: The thing I noticed about your run through the Quik Pro, which was similar in strategy to most of your heats in 2007, was the way you opened each heat with a 9 or better. I remember talking to Claw (Warbrick) about Andy Irons at Bells years ago and he made the point that Andy rarely opened his wave account in any heat with anything less than a 9. When you talk about being back on your game, is that opening wave strategy an example of everything going perfectly to plan?
MF: I like to starts heats off strong so that the pressure is put straight on the other guy. Even if a guy gets a couple of 6’s before I catch a wave I always have that confidence within myself that I can beat that score if I open strongly. You can see guys start stressing if you open with a high 8 or a 9 so that’s definitely a tactic that I like to employ. It can depend though. If the conditions are suss it’s good to get a couple of scores on the board just to get some momentum into your heat. I know at home this year I could tell from what the waves were doing that I had the luxury of waiting for the good ones.
VB: The trend has been for a handful of guys to totally dominate the ratings from beginning to end meaning the scope for mistakes or carding a bad result is so minimal. Do you think it will be a case of semi finals or better to win the World Title this year?
MF: It has been like that for a few years and I think it will continue to be. Last year a few guys made a lot of semis but no-one was getting wins. It’ll be a lot different this year compared to 2008 because I can’t see Kelly running away with it again. What he did last year was phenomenal. I think this year will be a lot closer with the guys in the top 10. I’d be surprised if it didn’t come down to the last comp and three or four guys were still in the running. Maybe more.
VB: What did you think of Kelly’s decision to ride the 5’4” he shaped himself at the Quiksilver pro?
MF: I hope he keeps riding it (laughs). Personally I thought what he was riding last year was spot on for him. In my eyes it was the best he’d ever surfed. I think with the new board he’s trying to give new challenges to himself. But the funny thing is I’ve shaped boards for myself and you have a tendency to think you’re fricken ripping on them but when it comes down to reality you’re actually not (laughs).
VB: You fool yourself?
MF: Well you’re that excited to ride them that you really want them to go good. It’s like when you’ve got a board with a good spray, the board might go shit but it’s got a good spray so it enhances the enjoyment of riding it. I don’t know if he’ll keep riding them but I personally think he shouldn’t change anything from what he was riding last year.
VB: He does seem determined to prove these boards work for him and also that he will persevere with experimental designs on Tour throughout the year.
MF: Well, maybe that’s a bit of stubbornness coming through. I know a lot of guys have been going shorter with their boards but only by an inch or even half an inch at most. I thought his board looked too small. It looked like it didn’t have any carry-through and he’s not sending the spray out of his turns that he was throwing last year. Even vertical off the tops have no board sticking out. He gets the tail out but it’s so fast that the judges can’t see it. That five or six inches that’s missing is obviously the key to what he’s trying to do, but wether it’ll work for him on tour I think remains to be seen.
VB: Have your boards changed much from those you were riding during your World Title year?
MF: I’ve only dropped down half an inch in length but other than that they’re pretty similar. Obviously they’ve evolved a little bit but the biggest difference is that small change in length and it’s given me a lot more control in what I’m trying to do.
VB: Do you play around with different boards at all?
MF: For sure. I love getting on my single fin and my twinnies and playing around with different shapes and set-ups. I’ve actually got a new one coming soon. It’s a 5’8” old school Simon Anderson thing with deep channels and I can’t wait to ride that. As far as competitive surfing is concerned though I think everyone is doing their best surfing on modern conventional boards.
VB: Looking at photos and footage of your surfing especially through the tail end of last year, there seemed to be a lot more freedom and creativity in your overall approach. Is that a fair observation or have I eaten too many mushrooms in my youth?
MF: I definitely got back in touch with my freesurfing last year. I felt like I was really enjoying just being in the water and with the half inch taken off my boards I felt like I had a lot more freedom. If a big section presented itself then I felt really comfortable trying things I may not have done the year before. I’m not scared of falling off for the sake of trying something new and it’d definitely be fair to say I was having a lot more fun. Plus having guys like Dane Reynolds on tour has really opened everyone’s eyes to really going for it.
VB: Dane was definitely getting rewarded for keeping that approach going in his heats on the Gold Coast.
MF: Dane was getting the scores when he was doing that stuff right through the tail end of last year. One heat that comes to mind was against Taj in France he did some crazy airs and beat Taj convincingly. He had some amazing heats at Trestles too where he was throwing it all down. So I think he was getting the scores and once he gets some consistency he’s gonna take some stopping.
VB: Surfing against Dane amp you up to bust a few airs?
MF: I actually haven’t surfed against him that much. We had a couple of heats before he got on tour, but I go into heats like that and I know I can’t do aerials as good as he can so I’ll probably do things that I feel I can do better than him. I’d love to be able to do those massive things he does, but for some reason I can’t get out of the water (laughs).
VB: Something to work on?
MF: Don’t worry I’ve been working on it for a while (laughs).
VB: Are there other areas you feel like you need to improve on? In 07 you spent quite a bit of time at Teahupoo before the comp to build on your performance out there. Are there any waves or areas where you feel a weakness can be exposed?
MF: I’m forever trying to improve on what I’m doing right across the board. If you don’t then you’ll end up going backwards. Specifically, there’s no real concern or weakness for me. I’m pretty dedicated to sharpening all areas.
VB: What about Pipeline? You’ve done well there in the past, but in the heat you lost last year you were grossly underscored in my opinion.
MF: I’ve heard that from a few people, but so be it (laughs). That’s less an issue with the wave and more an issue with the judges. That’s just the way it goes. I was pumped to do well at Pipe and I’ve done well there in the past and I’ve just had unlucky heats the past couple of years. The wave itself I feel quite comfortable with. But leading into every event I’ll always look at the previous year, how I went and what I could do better and try and take the good things and then add something else as well to keep things fresh. Not only does that build your confidence it helps you to learn from your mistakes.
VB: Is your event routine as intensive as it was in 07?
MF: My prep this year was the best prep I’ve ever done. I felt my surfing was the best it’s ever been. If you have a really good prep then you don’t have to train as hard throughout the year. You’ve got a really good base and you can work on that throughout the year and bring it up when it’s needed.
VB: There’s been a lot of talk about Parko’s pre season preparation and it would surprise no-one if you two were neck and neck for the title come years end. Machado and Kelly have admitted that there was strain on their friendship during the ’95 battle for crown. How do you think you guys would handle such a scenario?
MF: Yeah, shit it does happen. No matter who I surf against I like to leave competitive surfing in the water. I don’t bring it to land. For Joel and I it’s something that we’ll deal with if or when the time comes. It’s a long year and so many things can happen in that time. In 2007 there were times when it did feel a little bit weird when I was out in front. There were times when all I wanted to do was talk to Joel about things, but I couldn’t because he was still in the running and was going for the same thing. That’s fair enough. As soon as he was out of the running it was back to normal. It sucks when you’re competing against one of your best mates, but in the wash up whoever wins I’m sure the other would be stoked to see them accomplish their goals.
VB: Having achieved a World Title is the tour more enjoyable for you now?
MF: I don’t want to do it forever. The past couple of years I’ve been really enjoying going on trips and finding good waves. But in saying that I feel I can compete against the best surfers in the world and so that’s where my focus is. When I start losing, I’ll quit (laughs).
VB: Was it not Homer Simpson who said “If you can’t win don’t try”?
MF: (Laughs) Exactly. No, I still feel like competition brings out the best in my surfing and while I continue to enjoy it I’ll continue to do the tour. I’m enjoying it at the moment so that’s what I’m doing.
VB: World Titles or bust?
MF: World Titles or the pub (laughs).
Surfing World Presents…
The Blueprint So You Think You Know Your Surfboard? Think Again!
The latest issue of Australia’s premiere surfing title has hit the newsstands and this issue will challenge everything you thought you knew about surfboards. Featuring design conversations with the elite, the weird, the genius and the downright whacky, the Blueprint offers perspectives that will inspire you to open your mind to the glide of varying surf craft.
The issue kicks off with a major piece written by 9 times World Champion Kelly Slater, who is spearheading yet another surfing revolution by shaping his own boards for this years tour. “I think everyone should go out there and ride something weird or something you're not used to, just for the sake of it. Right now, if you want to shred you’ll end up refining your equipment. If you want to have fun, you’ll lean towards something easy. If you want to have fun while you shred you have to design something different and then refine it. That’s where I’m at right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m finding that surfboards are exciting again,” says KS. It’s compulsive reading from the most influential surfer of all time.
On the same theme we talk to Jason Stevenson about what he’s shaping for Joel Parkinson’s run at this years World Title. Sage Joske talks about his father’s quest to re-create the traditional Hawaiian Alaia’s. Neal Purchase Jnr follows in his father’s footsteps to keep the family business moving into a new era. Jock Serong investigates the hazards facing our shapers, glassers and sanders who create the vehicles of our enjoyment and Greg Webber shares three theories that need to be read to be believed. “In my opinion, Asian men, have softer, more feminine hands.” What’s he on about? It’s all in the issue.
We also talk to Mick Fanning who despite being in red hot form on this year’s tour has slipped under the hype radar allowing him to plan a second World Title assault somewhat from the shadows. And how would he feel if the race came down to just he and good friend Parkinson? “You’re never gonna lay down for ya mate,” he says. Game on!
Still not enough for ya? Then check out Rasta’s column, Jon Frank’s week with Yadin Nicholl, Mark Richard’s thoughts on the World Tour and a whole lot more.
Surfing World Magazine, no wonder it’s an Australian legend.
The maestro presents in Perth, with special guest Wayne Lynch
Look at that line-up
NNW cyclone-swells are as rare as hen's teeth across the West Coast - and TC Marcus looks like delivering one this weekend.
And a bonus cutty for good measure!
And a bonus cutty for good measure!
The weekend is almost upon us.
Pumping Deadman's to perfect glassy mornings along North Steyne.
They're Calling Parko's Wave The Best Snapper Tube Ever, Your Australian Surfing Team Announced, and the Best Not Landed Air You'll See This Year
This Week In Surfing: Ten Things From Surfing & The Internet On The Week That Was March 16, 2018
Is financial viability on the horizon for surfing's peak body?
With some bonus pumping Greenmount
It's been a good one for Mick Fanning stories.