One of the nagging questions for admirers of Mick Fanning in 2011 was whether or not his career arc was pointing downward. Since his 2002 rookie season Fanning has been a fixture in the Top Five, maintaining his membership in that elite club seven of his first nine years on tour. Figure his 2007 and 2009 world titles are included and it’s quite clear he’s one of surfing’s all-time-greats. But in 2011 Fanning’s flame was doused into a flicker.
Kelly Slater owned the headlines early in the year, while an impressive crop of rookies injected new energy and interest into the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Fanning’s 2009 title seemed like ancient history, and his complete absence from the winner’s circle in 2011 made it look like a new era had indeed arrived. But Fanning never went anywhere.
Granted, if it looked like Fanning was merely going through the motions last year there’s a reason: he was. Mick, you see, was recharging his batteries. Last year was his tenth straight of grinding it out on tour, so he certainly deserved a mental vacation. That he finished his year in 11th while seemingly sleepwalking is a testament to his greatness.
Just last year there was blasphemous talk of Fanning’s surfing being outdated. His predictable rail surfing simply couldn’t compete with the new brand of high-flying acrobatics. And Fanning, some argued, hadn’t adapted like Slater. His 2007 injury kept him from updating his aerial dog fighting skills. And while some of the criticism rang true the thing about new fashion is this: it gets old quickly.
When new moves become ubiquitous they also become alarmingly annoying. And if that same move is the only weapon in a surfer’s arsenal it becomes their biggest weakness. Sure, they make for great video segments. But real life is unedited. Reality always catches up. In time, we all fall back in love with the timeless essentials of speed, power, and flow, and when we do, that’s where we rekindle our flame for Mick.
Fanning’s precision surfing may be predictable, but it’s stunningly beautiful, too. And true beauty never goes out of style.