If the freezing weather last week wasn’t depressing enough, Mick Fanning went and announced his retirement from competitive surfing. Now, I can understand here in the UK he may not the be the ‘God’ he is back home in Australia, but surely as watersports fans, you can understand it’s kind of a big deal – no matter where you live. Since Mick officially made the call that his time in a jersey will come to end post Bells, there’s been a lot of tributes for the great man. So, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon as I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the three-time World Champion on more than one occasion.
The first time I met Mick was during a press conference the day before the 2016 Quiksilver Pro (Gold Coast) was about to start. I was working for a commercial radio station at the time and had taken it upon myself to be the local surf reporter. It basically meant I could get a ‘press pass’ and watch live surfing all day on the proviso I dial a few updates back to the station. Not bad right? The best part was that once the surfing was done for the day I could grab my board and catch a few dusk peelers. Anyway, it was the year after Mick had been through the whole shark ordeal down at J-Bay, so any questions related to that were strictly prohibited. And if I’m being honest, it hadn’t really crossed my mind to ask about it. The Gold Coast had copped an epic swell leading into the comp, and as a man of current affairs, I just wanted to know how bazzed Mick had got. Which I think he appreciated. Then we got a photo. Which I appreciated. So it was just one big appreciation party. Pretty sure Mick then went on to make the fourth round with fellow Rip Curl team riders Matt Wilkinson and Tyler Wright taking home the chocolates.
The second time wasn’t necessarily a face-to-face encounter but more a social media interaction. It was just after Mick had bowed out of Bells and was going to take the rest of the year off for some well-deserved ‘Mick time’. I unfortunately wasn’t down in Victoria to see him narrowly lose his quarter final showdown, but I was watching it live at the radio station on a Sunday. Yes, that’s correct. I was committed to my job – even on a Sunday. Anyway, to me it was a pivotal moment, as at the time no one knew if he would be back surfing in 2017. I expressed my feelings live on air, and once the microphone was off, I went through my photos and uploaded the one of him and I that had been taken during the Quiksilver Pro presser. The caption read “Bells titles come and go, but friendships last forever #timeforaholiday”. Now, I don’t have Instagram notifications on my phone. I physically have to go in and see who’s actually ‘liked’ what I’ve chucked up. Therefore, I’m oblivious to the happenings on my social pipes. Anyway, it had basically been a full day before messages (from my mates back in Melbourne) started trickling through asking if I had seen the traction the photo was getting. The fact of the matter was I hadn’t because at the time I was content knowing my average was around 60 likes per photo. Nothing to write home about huh? However, the messages led me to believe that perhaps I had broken my ‘like’ record. I checked - and I had. However, the weirdest thing was the comments section. That had blown up. I scrolled down and lo and behold Mick had commented on it. Something along the lines of “BFF’s, haha cheers mate!”. I was stoked. Turns out a good mate of mine, who is actually quite close pals with Mick, had seen the photo and thought it was quite funny. He messaged Mick and told him to get around it. Pretty sure I still owe Stirling a beer for doing that…
The third and final time I met Mick was at his brewery, Balter, which also happened to be owned by the aforementioned Stirling. Prior to this last encounter, I had been surfing out the front of my house in Palm Beach all morning as it had been pumping. After a few hours I was cooked and figured I’d earned myself a burger with a few cold ones to wash it down with. As my mates were all loved up with their better halves, it was going to be a solo mission, something I learned to embrace during my time on the Gold Coast. It was a Sunday afternoon, so when I arrived, there was a solid sun-kissed crew settling in. I made my way to the bar and guess who’s moonlighting as a bartender? Yep, Mick. After a quick chat and a beer on the house, he went back to fulfilling his duties as chief beer pourer, while I settled in making friends with some pretty smooth operators who'd been in the surf game for a long time. Some of whom will be a big part of the Australian Olympic team heading over to Japan to make history in a couple of years.
So, for me it hasn’t been the 16 years on tour, the 22 Championship Tour wins or the 3 World Titles, but rather the relaxed approach Mick has embraced even during the darkest times. And when I say darkest times, I’m not referring to a few heat losses, nope, I’m referring to some heavy stuff. I won’t go into detail, but it’s fair to say he’s handled everything like a champ, which is admirable on so many levels it makes me question my manliness. He also pours a solid beer.
The World Tour won’t be the same.