Don’t expect to be hearing from your newly crowned world surfing champion any time soon because Michael “Eugene” Fanning is officially on hiatus.
A week after clinching the 2013 ASP world title in thrilling fashion from Kelly Slater on the North Shore, Mick has finally touched down back home in Coolangatta, Australia to enjoy the spoils of victory.
And his celebrations are a far cry from those that accompanied his maiden win in 2007; the now three-time champion trading hotel rooms and parties for the comfort of his own home and party pies. Well, for the most part…
With close friends and family by his side, Mick is quietly relishing one of his greatest feats, having become just the fifth man in surfing history to claim three world titles. And before he switched off his phone for good, we caught up with the man affectionately known as White Lightning to gauge his thoughts on his mammoth achievement now he’s had time for it to sink in.
“You know, all the titles mean something different to me and this one really seems satisfying in the sense that I worked really hard in all areas of my life to be here,” he says with a sense of contentment.
“My lifestyle, my training, my outlook; everything had something to do with my performance. I tried to be very conscious of how I was feeling and what I was putting into it on a daily basis and that’s why it feels so satisfying.
“This one is proof of what hard work and dedication can do. I surrounded myself with great people. My wife, Carissa, played such a huge role and Phil McNamara has been such a pivotal part of this campaign. And without him, I don’t think I would have been ready. Everyone that played a role in every different way; my sponsors, my trainer, my friends who ensured I was motivated. This is a team victory and I’m really appreciative of how every came together.”
Most people will remember the 2013 title fight for the Pipeline showdown between Mick and Kelly, a down-to-the-wire battle of epic proportions that would see either surfer put his name in the history books: Kelly for a record 12th win and Mick to join an illustrious few, including Andy Irons, Tom Curren and fellow Australian Mark Richards. But Mick says it's the smaller victories along the journey that really made the title possible; both from a points and confidence perspective.
“For me, there were three or four pivotal heats this year that I think really made my year,” he continues.
“One was against Freddie P in Bali, another against Ian Walsh at Tahiti and one against CJ in Fiji. They were some big heats against guys who really specialise in those specific types of waves. They’re ones that people probably don’t look at but personally, they’re really big boxes that I ticked. And that’s what makes it more satisfying, knowing that I can compete against those guys at waves they dominate. I still consider them better than me but it’s one of those things where you keep learning and trying to improve. And had things not gone my way in those specific heats, Kelly would probably be celebrating his dozen.”
Mick and Kelly’s rivalry is one of modern legend, eclipsed only by Kelly v Andy Irons, and Mick v Joel Parkinson.
To beat Kelly in an event is a massive triumph let alone in a world title showdown. Kelly is the king of mind games as much as the water, but Mick never gave Kelly a chance to rattle him in or out of the water in Hawaii.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t actually watch Kelly at all,” he says with a laugh.
“I wasn’t concentrating on him at all and the only time I really saw what he was doing was when I was walking back down to the contest area during the final and I saw some replays.
“I didn’t watch too much of anyone. I just knew what I needed to do and I didn’t need any distractions. I was getting hammered by waves and I didn’t have any energy to waste.”
Hammered indeed. In his elimination heat with CJ Hobgood, Mick took near a dozen waves on the head before claiming a winner in the dying seconds. Same, too with his crucial quarter-final victory over Yadin Nicol.
That perseverance won him the title but cost him another coveted crown; that of the Pipeline Master.
“It definitely bites me a little to miss out on Pipe,” he says.
“It’s a contest I’ve wanted to win since the moment I started surfing but to be brutally honest, I was just mentally spent by the time the semi came around.
“I was mentally and physically done after that quarter-final. In those first couple of heats I was getting pounded but it didn’t really hurt because I was just so focused. But as soon as I paddled out for the semi, after the title had been decided, all the pain just hit at once. It hurt so bad just paddling. Everything was so painful and I just got smoked. Haha.”
And what of those two last-minute waves that decided his title fate?
“Believe it or not, I actually never gave up hope in either of those two heats,” he continues with a grin.
“I saw sets rolling in on the horizon both times and I knew I had enough time – it was just a matter of picking the best wave and making sure I did the right thing at the right time. And I did. All year, I just felt like I was in a really good space.”
Go figure, he contested every finals series bar one, with his worst finish of the year a respectable ninth. He deserves some time off.
“There’s still a lot of stuff I’m excited to improve on for the future but for now, it’s all about switching off and spending the next few weeks with family and friends.
“I’ll set myself a date in the New Year and go from there, but until then I’ll do my best to enjoy myself and get fat over the break,” he finishes with a laugh.