Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Andy Irons, Mark Richards, and Mick Fanning. That is the complete list of professional surfers to win three or more world titles. Look at the list again and take note of the elite company in which Mick Fanning resides. To some, it may seem like yesterday when the kid dubbed “White Lightning” burst onto the scene in 2001 to win one of the most prestigious contests in surfing as a wildcard at Bells. He’s rung the bell three more times since then and cemented himself among the pantheon of the best competitive wave-riders the sport has ever known.
Outside of the surfing world, Mick is probably known best for the shark encounter he had at J-Bay in 2015. It was the moment we’d never thought we’d see, caught on a live webcast and replayed countless times across the world. But the shark encounter was not the most devastating event of Mick’s year. He lost a brother and a marriage, enough to sink anyone. It was understandable when Fanning decided to take a year off of sorts in 2016, electing to surf select WCT events instead of the full schedule and all of the rigors that accompany it. People may scoff at the idea of a pro surfer having a demanding life, but 11 events and nine countries in ten months is no joke. Year after year, for more than a decade, it’s been Mick’s life. Last year’s freedom must have been a much-needed breath of fresh air. And once one gets a taste of that, it’s easy to want more. Especially after tasting from the fountain of a brand new, previously undiscovered wave that gripped the internet over the last two days.
Mick has said he’s unsure of what 2017 holds for him. It seems unlikely that he’ll surf the entirety of the CT schedule. Despite participating in just five events in 2016, including a triumphant return and victory at J-Bay, Fanning requalified with ease. He could probably do the same again, and one would think he’ll surf Snapper and Bells at the very least. But it’s certainly no crime if he decides to skip the season altogether.
A star hanging it up at the height of his powers would undoubtedly irk some folks. At 35, Fanning remains one of the very best on the planet, and I doubt you’ll find any sane person who would argue otherwise. He’s one of the few surfers on tour that can win any event on the schedule. Take Mick’s 2013 season, his third World Title campaign, as an example. He made the quarterfinals in every event except one, Trestles, and he promptly made the quarters there the following year and proceeded to win there in 2015. 2014 and 2015 saw him finish second in the rankings, and there is no doubt in my mind he’d be in the hunt for the title if he decided to give it a full go in 2017.
I remember the public outcry when Dane Reynolds quit the ‘CT, people grumbling about wasted talent. Well, Dane’s done just fine for himself, and if he’s a happier person for his decision then it wasn’t a decision at all but rather a necessity. And if Mick decides not to attempt a fourth world title there should be no outcry. He’s accomplished more than most of the top surfers can even dream of. He’s given us the opportunity to see his mind-blowing surfing on the sport’s biggest stage for 15 years.
Do I hope to see Mick in some CT events this year? Of course. I’d be crazy not to, but only on his terms. Appreciate White Lightning for all the speed runs we’ve seen down the line, all the frontside hacks we could never have pulled off, all the deep barrels we’ve seen him get spit out of. He’s given us plenty, so if he decides his world title chase is over, remember to give him the respect that he deserves.