Making History: How Will Surf Mags Report On Pro Surfing's Biggest Moment

30 Jul 2015 0 Share

SW 366 Featuring the Moment That Stopped The World, On Sale Thursday August 6.

Interview by Alex Horvath

In the immediate aftermath of Mick Fanning’s shark encounter at Jeffreys Bay, when Mick was safe on the back of the ski and the world could see with great relief he was still in one piece, it was already clear that what had just taken place would spark a global media frenzy. A three-time world champ attacked on a beautiful sunny afternoon in a final against one of his best friends in front of a huge crowd and all streamed live on television and across the internet…  there was no doubt this would be pro surfing’s biggest moment

The media cycle started with the WSL broadcast, was quickly overtaken by rapid fire social posts and then reached fever pitch as the world’s news agencies milked every detail of what had happened. There wasn’t a newspaper cover, radio talk show, TV panel or any other outlet that didn’t dissect the events of that afternoon and speculate about what Mick and Julian had gone through and how they might recover. When the two returned to Australia a media conference had to be called to give the press what they wanted but that didn’t stop news crews and paparazzi camping outside Fanning’s Gold Coast home for the next two weeks as the appetite for more became insatiable.

Which left the surfing magazines in an interesting position: how would they report on the biggest story in pro surfing history in the wake of seemingly every stone having already been upturned? We spoke to Surfing World Editor Vaughan Blakey to find out how his team approached their upcoming issue.

CW: Mick’s shark attack has been described as surfing’s “Where were you…?” moment? Did you see it live or later?

VB: I was driving home from the airport. I had the final on my phone and I was using the commentary as a radio show. I stopped at a set of lights, looked down, saw the fin right at the moment it hit Mick, pulled straight off the road and then I screamed… I actually screamed NO! I thought the worst. It was one of the heaviest things I’ve ever seen.

Once you realised Mick was ok what did you do?

I was in a state of disbelief for quite a while but I think eventually I put something on the SW instagram then I rang the Coastalwatch guys to see if someone was onto the story because even before Mick was back on the boat I knew this was going to be huge. Everyone did. By 2am, which was only an hour or two later, every surf website in the world had already posted a story. 

"You can stare at these pages for hours on end and really feel the emotions of that day."

Did you think the media attention from outside of surfing would be as big as it was?

Definitely. All the ingredients were there. And I think the stories that began to emerge after the initial shock of the moment itself only fuelled the interest further. That Mick actually punched the shark. That Julian paddled straight towards Mick to help. That Mick’s Mum was watching it all unfold at home by herself… it was heartbreaking and celebratory but in the end we were free to enjoy all of it because everyone was ok.

Typically big moments in surfing don’t interest the straight press, this time however you had every media outlet in the world frothing on the story. At what point did you begin to think about how you’d cover this event for SW?

We were only two days out from deadline so a decision had to be made to tear up the mag we’d been working on, which was practically finished, and get this Fanning story happening. We knew if we didn’t act, a month would go by before we had anything on it in print and that would be far too late. So Monday morning came around and my first thought was… we have the best writers let’s put them to work. Our Editor at Large Sean Doherty is as close to Mick as anybody and he wrote an amazing piece on Mick’s resilience and ability to bounce back from adversity. Our Senior Writer Jock Serong has done more long form shark stories for SW than anyone so he looked into the history of shark attacks around Jeffreys and Derek Hynd, who is a regular contributor to the mag and a long time J-Bay visitor was one of the first guys back in the water after the attack so we got his take on what that was like. I was confident all three of those angles would be exclusive and provide something emotionally deeper and more informative than the play-by-plays and reactionary pulls used in the straight press.

And you were the first guy to speak to Mick one-on-one once he got home?

Yeah that was amazing. I didn’t want to bother him at all but to do the job properly I knew that interview had to be in there. He was so cool to give us that time. It was the day after the press conference in Sydney and he’d had a chance to spend a night at home and our conversation was much reflective in nature when compared to the interviews he’d done up until that point. Things were definitely beginning to settle and sink in. He hadn’t had a moment’s peace up until that day, although I think he was tripping out that there were news crews parked outside his house and photographers running up and down the beach out front. What I loved most about the interview is Mick’s tone. He’s talking to the surfing community, to his friends. It’s got a familiar and intimate quality to it. I’m very grateful for that.

Was the cover hard to pick?

Danny (Johnson, SW Art Director) and I discussed a lot of different options. We didn’t want to go with an attack shot. They’d been everywhere. We needed something that captured the emotion of the moment. The shot we ended going with was taken by James Wilson (Jimmicane). We felt it was one of the few moments of introspection captured of Mick once he was back on land, whereas everything else was an outpouring of emotion, the sharing of that initial shock and relief with his friends. The moment Jimmy captured, you can see it’s all sinking in that he’s just dodged a big grey bullet (Seano’s words not mine). The hand on his shoulder is a nice touch too. It’s a powerful image.

So two days to squeeze all this together. Must have been a fun couple of late nights in the office?

There was a lot of pressure but in the end I’m really proud of the document our team has put together. The stories are insane, the images are amazing and the layouts are spellbinding. You can stare at these pages for hours on end and really feel the emotions of that day. And I really believe you’ll be able to do that the day you pick it up and 10 or 20 years from now when it’s sitting by your toilet or hidden on a top shelf in your garage somewhere. That’s exactly why we drop everything to get stories like this in the mag. Because they mark moments in time that we’ll never forget.




Tags: surfingworld , interview , mickfanning , j-bay (create Alert from these tags)

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