Pro Spotlight – Mick Fanning

The fast and slow times of one Michael Eugene Fanning.

By Adam Blakey

[IMAGE 1]

Check him out. Mick Fanning. White Lightning. The Spider Monkey. Speedy Fan-zalez. That bro who surfs super, really super-fast. Yeah, you know Mick. Couldn’t miss him. Kid got more exposure last year than Ceej and K.S. put together, and he wasn’t even on tour. Go figure? Maybe not. While he’s only been big time with the U.S. press for a couple years, Mick has been in the Australian surfing spotlight for freakin’ ever.

I remember about six years ago, I had this heavy Pizza Hut addiction. I was ordering more BBQ Meat Lover’s (with a complementary Pepsi and garlic bread) than my lowly pay packet could account for, and thus I was forced to earn some spare change commentating junior contests to keep feeding my greasy, putrid girth. Anywho, there was this one comp I went to down Winki Pop, Victoria way, that boasted a pretty heavy field. Joel Parkinson, Trent Munro, Phil MacDonald, Darren O’Rafferty, and Dean Morrison were just a few names obliterating the lineup before and during heats. But the obvious standout at this particular event was a weedy little grub with a blinding crop of shiny white hair and a skeleton so devoid of muscle tissue he looked no more human than a pile of twigs.

This miniscule fifteen year old would attack every wave with the same frenzied ferocity a poodle with rabies attacks a defenseless sock. This unchained enthusiasm caught the eyes of many observers, in particular, those of Gary Dunne, the freshly recruited team manager for Rip Curl. At that time, Mick was riding for Quiksilver, but Dunne had seen enough from this Gold Coast prodigy to make a poaching inevitable.

“Keep this under your hat,” he whispered to me all cloak-and-dagger-like one afternoon. “By the end of the year, Mick Fanning will be riding for Rip Curl.”

What followed was Australia’s first serious bidding war for a young kid in close to a decade, with The Curl eventually winning out. The deal–rumored to be six figures over three years–meant Fanning would come off contract with two years of junior surfing still ahead of him.

Six years on, Mick, now 21, is still happy in bed with his major sponsor. He’s got a blissful junior career behind him, a ’CT win under his belt (the ’01 Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach), and is steadily climbing the ratings as a member of the elite 44. He’s scored some solid cred with a couple big performances on the Rock, and has also gained a rep as the fastest surfer on Earth. And here’s the part you hate most, where I say that with so many accolades, so much success, and so much exposure, you’d think Mick would be a Mariah Carey-esque diva, screaming like a banshee because his new wettie wasn’t lined with pink satin, or having a nervous breakdown because no one turned up before his heat to massage his board. But predictably, Mick is the polar opposite. He’s a thoughtful, friendly, slow-talking dude, out for no more than a laugh and a few good waves. The fact that he surfs them better than almost anyone seems to have escaped his knowledge.

[IMAGE 2]

When TWS contacted Mick for this interview, he was at Hamilton Island, an extravagant, waveless resort on the spectacular Great Barrier Reef off the far north Queensland coast. He had taken his girlfriend Cerise on a tropical birthday holiday. With little regard for their last precious moments together in an isolated oasis, we began rolling tape …

(Phone ringing)

Mick: Hello.

TWS: G’day, Mick. It’s TWS here. How’s things?

Mick: Not bad.

TWS: Great, what are you up to at the moment?

Mick: I’m just on Hamilton Island with my girlfriend. We’re at the airport, actually, waitinfor a flight home.

TWS: Bad time for an interview?

Mick: Nah, go for it.

TWS: Sweet. We’ll get stuck into then. You’re generally regarded as the fastest surfer in the world at the moment. How do you feel about that?

Mick: Um, yeah, stoked. It’s not every day you get a rap like that, but I don’t mind it.

TWS: Were you a fast runner at school?

Mick: Nah, I was pretty slow. Used to do cross-countries and stuff like that, went all right in those, but they’re more about endurance than speed, I think.

TWS: Did you know the fastest living creature on Earth is the peregrine falcon?

Mick: Really? Nah, I didn’t know that.

TWS: Yeah, it lives in cities, and when diving for its prey can reach speeds of up to 240 kilometers an hour.

Mick: Wow.

TWS: Do you reckon you could beat the peregrine falcon in a race if you were on a wave?

Mick: Ah, f–k no.

TWS: What about Maurice Green, then? Reckon you can surf faster than he can run?

Mick: Oh, hell no. You kiddin’ me?

TWS: What about those surfing video games?

Mick: What about ’em?

TWS: Well, the surfers on them get to pick one trademark move that the computer-programmer geeks make possible. Do you reckon your trademark would be to go faster than everyone?

Mick: (Laughs) F–k, the way you’re carrying on, it probably will be.

TWS: Who are the fastest surfers on tour?

Mick: Kalani is the fastest, I reckon. Then Slater. F–k, there’re heaps. Everyone is pretty out of control. Hey, my phone is almost out of batteries, so if I cut out you’ll have to call me back later.

TWS: No worries. I guess that’s enough about speed, let’s talk world titles. Now that Lennox Lewis has knocked out Mike Tyson, is he the undisputed heavyweight of the world?

Mick: Yeah for sure. He thrashed him. Lennox is king.

TWS: What about the U.S. soccer team? They went all right in the World Cup. Do you think they might win it one day?

Mick: Nah, not likely. They’ve been playing pretty good, but they haven’t got the goods. Senegal is my team anyway.

TWS: What about in surfing? Who’s looking dangerous? Who’re the challengers?

Mick: Man, it’s all weird. Guys can be right at the bottom of the ratings and a good result can fling ’em right up there. Lowey wasn’t doing that good before Fiji, and now he’s in the top ten thanks to one win. He’s in the race and

bleep … bleep … bleep

[IMAGE 3]

Mick’s phone runs out of batteries. Your correspondent tries not to cry, as he is suddenly cast back into the desolate and lonely life of the freelance surf writer. Staring at a wall for the next six hours, he decides to try Mick’s home phone around 7:00 p.m. Mick picks up. The interview resumes …

TWS: G’day, Mick. Nice flight home?

Mick: Yeah, not bad.

TWS: Sweet. So we were talking about World Title threats. Who you picking?

Mick: Yeah, that’s right. Well, the obvious guys are Andy, Occ, and Louie. The Lopez brothers are doing really well. Um, Parko is up there. Shit, anyone in the top ten could do it.

TWS: Does ’CT life meet all the expectations you had as a kid?

Mick: Yeah, it’s sort of weird. Sometimes it can be really good, and other times it can be pretty bad. It’s really hard when it just starts and stops all the time. You can feel like you’re just starting to get some rhythm, and then all of a sudden there’s three days off ’cause it goes flat or something. So you just have to learn to be “on” for that half hour, no matter when it pops up. Then, hopefully, you can keep getting through heats.

TWS: You had any tough heats since qualifying?

Mick: Probably the hardest one was against Willsy at Bells. The waves were shithouse, and he was going absolutely mad. I made a mistake by giving him a wave. That heat sticks out the most in my mind as the hardest.

TWS: Do the weeping old codgers give you a hand by offering any tips, or do they keep their cards close to their chest?

Mick: Guys like Louie and Occ will give me advice. Hog and the boys do, too, though they’re a bit younger. Everyone generally helps each other out until you draw them in a heat. Then they keep their cards close to their chests for sure (laughs).

TWS: Have you surfed against Kelly yet?

Mick: Yeah, we had a heat at Teahupo‘o. Um, I dunno how I went. (There’s a silent, lengthy pause as Mick reflects.) Oh, yeah, that’s right, I came last. Yeah, he was actually late for it. It was a first-round heat, a three man-er, so no one really cared. Peterson Rosa actually won the heat. He got a nine at the beginning, so Kelly and I had to settle for second and third in that order.

TWS: Do you feel pressure on yourself having to perform at places like Teahupo‘o?

Mick: Yeah. I was shitting myself before going. Before I left I was having full-on nightmares about going over the falls and stuff like that. But you know, when you get there and see how good the waves are, you don’t really worry about how you’re going to perform. You just want to get out there and get the best waves you can. I mean, a wave there, it’ll either be the beast of your life or the best barrel of your life. You just gotta go.

TWS: What about Pipe?

Mick: I don’t mind surfing Pipe. It’s actually pretty fun, I think. It’s not as perfect as Teahupo‘o. You know which ones are gonna be perfect at Teahupo‘o, but Pipe’s full of surprises. I can’t wait for the end of the year, though–should be great.

TWS: You’ve been the most exposed surfer on Earth over the past year. Has that fame changed your life?

Mick: I try to take no notice of it. You know, keep clear of it and do what I normally do. If someone comes up and says hello, then I try to be nice. Give them the time of day.

TWS: What about groms?

Mick: It’s weird ’cause I’m just a grom myself. But it’s good if the kids are happy. I still get stoked talking to all the blokes who I admired growing up.

TWS: What about all the modeling. How do you go getting your gear off?

Mick: Oh yeah–my rig, mate.

TWS: How’s your rig going?

Mick: Aaarhh, it’s fingered at the moment.

TWS: Do you spend much time in front of the mirror checking yourself out, rubbing oil on your rig and that?

Mick: I get the rig all oiled up before I check the surf sometimes. It’s sweet.

TWS: On the average beach girl’s rig-o-meter how do you reckon you’d rate?

Mick: Mate, I’d be a minus ten with this spindly rig (laughs).

TWS: What about in the days before surf stardom? Did you do all right with girls back then?

Mick: Nah, they all f–kin’ hated me. I never even used to talk to them. Couldn’t be f–ked.

TWS: What do you think when you look at yourself in those shirtless Rip Curl ads? Saucy bit of primo beef or malnourished greyhound in desperate need of a good fee46;s three days off ’cause it goes flat or something. So you just have to learn to be “on” for that half hour, no matter when it pops up. Then, hopefully, you can keep getting through heats.

TWS: You had any tough heats since qualifying?

Mick: Probably the hardest one was against Willsy at Bells. The waves were shithouse, and he was going absolutely mad. I made a mistake by giving him a wave. That heat sticks out the most in my mind as the hardest.

TWS: Do the weeping old codgers give you a hand by offering any tips, or do they keep their cards close to their chest?

Mick: Guys like Louie and Occ will give me advice. Hog and the boys do, too, though they’re a bit younger. Everyone generally helps each other out until you draw them in a heat. Then they keep their cards close to their chests for sure (laughs).

TWS: Have you surfed against Kelly yet?

Mick: Yeah, we had a heat at Teahupo‘o. Um, I dunno how I went. (There’s a silent, lengthy pause as Mick reflects.) Oh, yeah, that’s right, I came last. Yeah, he was actually late for it. It was a first-round heat, a three man-er, so no one really cared. Peterson Rosa actually won the heat. He got a nine at the beginning, so Kelly and I had to settle for second and third in that order.

TWS: Do you feel pressure on yourself having to perform at places like Teahupo‘o?

Mick: Yeah. I was shitting myself before going. Before I left I was having full-on nightmares about going over the falls and stuff like that. But you know, when you get there and see how good the waves are, you don’t really worry about how you’re going to perform. You just want to get out there and get the best waves you can. I mean, a wave there, it’ll either be the beast of your life or the best barrel of your life. You just gotta go.

TWS: What about Pipe?

Mick: I don’t mind surfing Pipe. It’s actually pretty fun, I think. It’s not as perfect as Teahupo‘o. You know which ones are gonna be perfect at Teahupo‘o, but Pipe’s full of surprises. I can’t wait for the end of the year, though–should be great.

TWS: You’ve been the most exposed surfer on Earth over the past year. Has that fame changed your life?

Mick: I try to take no notice of it. You know, keep clear of it and do what I normally do. If someone comes up and says hello, then I try to be nice. Give them the time of day.

TWS: What about groms?

Mick: It’s weird ’cause I’m just a grom myself. But it’s good if the kids are happy. I still get stoked talking to all the blokes who I admired growing up.

TWS: What about all the modeling. How do you go getting your gear off?

Mick: Oh yeah–my rig, mate.

TWS: How’s your rig going?

Mick: Aaarhh, it’s fingered at the moment.

TWS: Do you spend much time in front of the mirror checking yourself out, rubbing oil on your rig and that?

Mick: I get the rig all oiled up before I check the surf sometimes. It’s sweet.

TWS: On the average beach girl’s rig-o-meter how do you reckon you’d rate?

Mick: Mate, I’d be a minus ten with this spindly rig (laughs).

TWS: What about in the days before surf stardom? Did you do all right with girls back then?

Mick: Nah, they all f–kin’ hated me. I never even used to talk to them. Couldn’t be f–ked.

TWS: What do you think when you look at yourself in those shirtless Rip Curl ads? Saucy bit of primo beef or malnourished greyhound in desperate need of a good feed?

Mick: (Laughs) I dunno, but f–k, I hate doing those things. They’re good for about two seconds, but you’re just standing around all day. If you could get it over and done with without all the waiting it’d be all right, but I’m no model.

TWS: My little sister had a crush on you for a while, but now she’s in love with this brickies laborer named Mike. Are you bummed that she never got to see the real you, only the Mick in the mags, before she moved on?

Mick: Well, you never know. She may have bumped into me at the pub and realized I was just a dickhead.

TWS: Will you try to fight Mike the brickies laborer if you ever see him?

Mick: Nah, mate. I’m a lover not a fighter.

TWS: How long have you been with your girlfriend now?

Mick: I’ve been with Cerise for about three years.

TWS: What does she think of Mick Zoolander?

Mick: She gets all weirded out.

TWS: Any incidents where, say, you and Cerise are hanging out down the beach and some desperate fanatic will spot you and scream something like, “Mick Fanning, I want you to be your personal erotic plaything! Whip me, whip me, whip me, you know that’s how I like it!”?

Mick: Not in those words, but there’s been a couple of uncomfortable moments. It’s f–ked.

TWS: Well, modeling aside, do you still get stoked with a good surf shot in the mag, or has the novelty worn off?

Mick: I don’t think I get that many good surf shots, actually. They’re all usually just the same old thing. Pull-off-the-back airs and all that. Pretty ordinary.

TWS: So what sort of photos would it take to stoke you out?

Mick: I dunno. It’d be nice to do a good hack one day, but my skinny little rig don’t do much in that department.

TWS: Ambition-wise what’s your plan?

Mick: I’m just taking it as it comes. At the moment I’m just trying to learn a lot of things. I’m on a big learning curve at the moment.

TWS: Do you see yourself as a World Champion?

Mick: I dunno. Does anyone? I’d love to do it, but I look at the guys like Luke Egan and Kalani and Machado. All those guys have come so close, but only one guy a year can be the world champ, so a lot of good surfers are missing out. I don’t know if not winning the world title would take away from your career. But I would love to do it, for sure.

TWS: You, Parko, and Dean Morrison are regarded as spearheading the new push–kind of like when the Momentum crew first arrived. Where do you reckon the next push will come from?

Mick: There’re a couple of guys from Brazil who surf pretty damn good, but you could say anywhere has the potential to do it. The kids in Hawai‘i right now, they’re surfing pretty damn good, too. I think it comes down to whoever is given a break. I always believed Australia had the best surfers getting the least money, but in the past few years it’s been getting better. Anyone given a break can do it.

TWS: So life at home is pretty good at the moment?

Mick: Yeah, you could say that.

TWS: Take us through a normal day in the life of Mick Fanning.

Mick: If the waves are good I’ll get up early and go for a surf. Then I’ll come in and have a feed, do some stretching, go for another surf, have lunch, maybe have a little sleep, surf again, and have some tea.

TWS: Sounds tough?

Mick: Yeah, it’s hard.

TWS: Is it hard to stay motivated when the surf’s shit?

Mick: Sometimes, but I try and get out there every day. I get amped to surf pretty easily.

TWS: Been trying any new moves?

Mick: Nah, I don’t invent moves, I steal them from other people. If I was focusing on anything at the moment it’d be just smashing it as hard as I can. Big hacks and nice big carves.

TWS: What are your plans this evening and the next few weeks?

Mick: Tonight I’m packing my boards ’cause I’m going to Indo in the morning.

TWS: Shit, you’ve spent some time up there.

Mick: I can’t get enough of the place. I haven’t been up there this year, so I’m pretty excited.

TWS: Well, thanks for talking to us, Mick.

Mick: Good to have a chat.

TWS: You know we could just talk for a while longer if you want, ’cause being a surf journo, I haven’t got that many friends. After you hang up aall I’ve really got to do with my time is stare at the wall, so do you wanna talk for a bit longer? Mick … Mick are you there …

Bleep … bleep … bleep …

[IMAGE 4]

Last year Mick took a ride in a (enter name of jet), which means he has at least once in his life gone faster than a peregrine falcon and Maurice Green. Plus he didn’t black out, or spew, or piss his pants, even while turning at Mach seven. Kid can handle speed. Kid can handle the pace.

/P>

Mick: (Laughs) I dunno, but f–k, I hate doing those things. They’re good for about two seconds, but you’re just standing around all day. If you could get it over and done with without all the waiting it’d be all right, but I’m no model.

TWS: My little sister had a crush on you for a while, but now she’s in love with this brickies laborer named Mike. Are you bummed that she never got to see the real you, only the Mick in the mags, before she moved on?

Mick: Well, you never know. She may have bumped into me at the pub and realized I was just a dickhead.

TWS: Will you try to fight Mike the brickies laborer if you ever see him?

Mick: Nah, mate. I’m a lover not a fighter.

TWS: How long have you been with your girlfriend now?

Mick: I’ve been with Cerise for about three years.

TWS: What does she think of Mick Zoolander?

Mick: She gets all weirded out.

TWS: Any incidents where, say, you and Cerise are hanging out down the beach and some desperate fanatic will spot you and scream something like, “Mick Fanning, I want you to be your personal erotic plaything! Whip me, whip me, whip me, you know that’s how I like it!”?

Mick: Not in those words, but there’s been a couple of uncomfortable moments. It’s f–ked.

TWS: Well, modeling aside, do you still get stoked with a good surf shot in the mag, or has the novelty worn off?

Mick: I don’t think I get that many good surf shots, actually. They’re all usually just the same old thing. Pull-off-the-back airs and all that. Pretty ordinary.

TWS: So what sort of photos would it take to stoke you out?

Mick: I dunno. It’d be nice to do a good hack one day, but my skinny little rig don’t do much in that department.

TWS: Ambition-wise what’s your plan?

Mick: I’m just taking it as it comes. At the moment I’m just trying to learn a lot of things. I’m on a big learning curve at the moment.

TWS: Do you see yourself as a World Champion?

Mick: I dunno. Does anyone? I’d love to do it, but I look at the guys like Luke Egan and Kalani and Machado. All those guys have come so close, but only one guy a year can be the world champ, so a lot of good surfers are missing out. I don’t know if not winning the world title would take away from your career. But I would love to do it, for sure.

TWS: You, Parko, and Dean Morrison are regarded as spearheading the new push–kind of like when the Momentum crew first arrived. Where do you reckon the next push will come from?

Mick: There’re a couple of guys from Brazil who surf pretty damn good, but you could say anywhere has the potential to do it. The kids in Hawai‘i right now, they’re surfing pretty damn good, too. I think it comes down to whoever is given a break. I always believed Australia had the best surfers getting the least money, but in the past few years it’s been getting better. Anyone given a break can do it.

TWS: So life at home is pretty good at the moment?

Mick: Yeah, you could say that.

TWS: Take us through a normal day in the life of Mick Fanning.

Mick: If the waves are good I’ll get up early and go for a surf. Then I’ll come in and have a feed, do some stretching, go for another surf, have lunch, maybe have a little sleep, surf again, and have some tea.

TWS: Sounds tough?

Mick: Yeah, it’s hard.

TWS: Is it hard to stay motivated when the surf’s shit?

Mick: Sometimes, but I try and get out there every day. I get amped to surf pretty easily.

TWS: Been trying any new moves?

Mick: Nah, I don’t invent moves, I steal them from other people. If I was focusing on anything at the moment it’d be just smashing it as hard as I can. Big hacks and nice big carves.

TWS: What are your plans this evening and the next few weeks?

Mick: Tonight I’m packing my boards ’cause I’m going to Indo in the morning.

TWS: Shit, you’ve spent some time up there.

Mick: I can’t get enough of the place. I haven’t been up there this year, so I’m pretty excited.

TWS: Well, thanks for talking to us, Mick.

Mick: Good to have a chat.

TWS: You know we could just talk for a while longer if you want, ’cause being a surf journo, I haven’t got that many friends. After you hang up all I’ve really got to do with my time is stare at the wall, so do you wanna talk for a bit longer? Mick … Mick are you there …

Bleep … bleep … bleep …

[IMAGE 4]

Last year Mick took a ride in a (enter name of jet), which means he has at least once in his life gone faster than a peregrine falcon and Maurice Green. Plus he didn’t black out, or spew, or piss his pants, even while turning at Mach seven. Kid can handle speed. Kid can handle the pace.

retty easily.

TWS: Been trying any new moves?

Mick: Nah, I don’t invent moves, I steal them from other people. If I was focusing on anything at the moment it’d be just smashing it as hard as I can. Big hacks and nice big carves.

TWS: What are your plans this evening and the next few weeks?

Mick: Tonight I’m packing my boards ’cause I’m going to Indo in the morning.

TWS: Shit, you’ve spent some time up there.

Mick: I can’t get enough of the place. I haven’t been up there this year, so I’m pretty excited.

TWS: Well, thanks for talking to us, Mick.

Mick: Good to have a chat.

TWS: You know we could just talk for a while longer if you want, ’cause being a surf journo, I haven’t got that many friends. After you hang up all I’ve really got to do with my time is stare at the wall, so do you wanna talk for a bit longer? Mick … Mick are you there …

Bleep … bleep … bleep …

[IMAGE 4]

Last year Mick took a ride in a (enter name of jet), which means he has at least once in his life gone faster than a peregrine falcon and Maurice Green. Plus he didn’t black out, or spew, or piss his pants, even while turning at Mach seven. Kid can handle speed. Kid can handle the pace.