Surfing legend reflects on his career, highlights, video

DON’T let his three world titles fool you; Mick Fanning wasn’t always destined to become an elite surfer.

There should have been too many obstacles to overcome.

But that’s also what makes his journey to the top so unique.

In an exclusive sitdown with, Fanning opened up on a career littered with personal tragedy, career-threatening injuries, and yes, even a shark.

Not many stories about a champion surfer begin in Ireland; but Mick’s does.

His parents John Fanning and Elizabeth Osborne’s decision to pack up their lives and move to the Western Suburbs of Sydney represented the start of Mick’s path to stardom.

Born in Penrith — which, in case you were wondering, couldn’t be further from the traditional breeding grounds for surfing royalty — Fanning was the youngest of five children.

His sister, Rachel, was the eldest, and was tasked with taking care of the family when both parents were working. Mick was the baby, and always ‘running around’ with his three older brothers, Sean, Edward, and Peter.

As expected for so many boys, in such a big family, they didn’t always get along.

“Some days were good, some days were bad – that’s the way brothers are,” Fanning told

“But I learnt so much from them, I learnt so much from all my family. Being the youngest of five you get to see different mistakes they’ve made in their path, or different things that worked out really well for them.”

His parents split when Mick was just two, and the next few years saw Fanning and his siblings move all over the country; including Coffs Harbour, back to the West, Ballina by Fanning’s eighth birthday, before eventually landing in the Gold Coast at 12 years of age.


While Fanning was gifted with a natural talent and work ethic; the obstacles that the Aussie had to overcome on his journey would likely have been enough to stop five men, let alone one.

There are a million and one reasons why he shouldn’t have risen to the top, and yet here he is.

And that’s the one thing that stands out with Fanning; it’s not his ability to just overcome, but instead his almost impossible capacity to thrive in the face of adversity.

He doesn’t just ‘do enough’, he does the most.

“[It’s] probably because I’m a weirdo. For me, when I put my mind to something and get determined to do something, I just put all of me into it,” Fanning said.

“I decide; okay, this is it. I just feel like if you’re going to do a job, you might as well do it right and see what happens.”

It’s a simple approach that likely doesn’t do his feat justice, but he needed every inch of that determination along the way.


Sean – the second youngest of the Fanning bunch – was the cornerstone of Mick’s group of friends in Coolangatta, and was the brother he spent the most time with growing up.

But in 1998 – when Mick was just 17 – Sean died in a car crash.

Mick had been offered a lift, but turned it down, and his brother and close friend passed away after their car hit a gutter and ploughed into a tree.

“It was a huge tragedy. Sean and I were rolling pretty thick there all those years. Being the youngest two, and there were the older two; it was almost like two different groups,” Fanning said.

“Everyone was sort of just shocked, really. I guess the next thing for me was just trying to shape all that emotion and energy into something positive.

Fanning took a long break from surfing after the loss of his brother, who he had plans to compete with on the Tour.

“To this day I’ll sit there and I’ll know when I feel like he’s with me, and I’ll know when he’s not. He was always someone if I needed a wave, or things were going alright, I always sort of looked up to the sky and looked at him,” said Fanning.

“For me it showed that you couldn’t just take life for granted, it can be finished in the blink of an eye, so just really enjoy those good times.”

Ready to get back into the thick of things, Fanning surfed at the Konica Skins competition at Sandon Point in Wollongong. He won the event on the same day Sean would have turned 21.

“It was a weird one, really. Me and best mate, Beau went down, and we were actually too young to drive or do anything, so mum came and drove us around.

“I was just surfing and having a lot of fun and it was just ironic that on his 21st birthday, I won $21,000.

“It was one of those things where we were just celebrating the day, it wasn’t emotional or anything, we just had a lot of fun.”

Mick Fanning with his brother Sean.Source: Supplied


Come 2001 and Fanning was fighting to qualify for his first ASP Tour. But a back injury worsened, with the Aussie eventually discovering he was suffering from scoliosis.

“When I had all the back pain, I didn’t know what was going on. I just thought I was a bent-out-of-shape kid.

“It gave me a focus that I probably didn’t have in the past. I was sort of just like any other kid, run of the mill, just running around doing nothing.

“But I had to focus on making sure my body was strong so I didn’t fall apart, and I think that taught me a lot about preparation and taught me a lot about taking care of yourself; it was the start of how I prepare for events.”

Fanning won his first event back from the injury at Margaret River, before taking out his first Tour event as a wildcard at Bells Beach in 2001.

Mick Fanning celebrates with his mates after winning at Bells Beach in Victoria.Source: News Limited

In 2002, Fanning completed his first full-time season on the Tour; finishing fifth and winning the Rookie of the Year award. And in 2003, Mick finished one spot better in fourth.

Fanning was all set up for a monster 2004.

But on an Indonesian surf trip off the west coast of Sumatra, Fanning suffered the worst injury of his career.

A misjudged wave resulted in Fanning bailing off the board and tearing his hamstring off the bone completely.

Having left school early to pursue a career in surfing and after just two years on the Tour, Fanning had to cope with the reality that his competitive future was up in the air.

A surgery that involved metal hooks and lots of sewing kept the Aussie out of the water for five months.

“My first couple years I was blown away with how well I did, I was thinking 2004 was going to be a great year and then the injury happened,” Fanning explained.

“I didn’t know how long it was going to take, and I didn’t know exactly if I’d surf again,” said Fanning on his recovery.

The time off allowed Fanning some much-needed respite from the stresses of surfing, and he moved into the first house he ever built.

“I got to hang out with my friends that I hadn’t really hung out with since I was 16. A lot of it was just my mates pulling me through, and keeping an eye on me,” Fanning said.

“It was sort of like work too, going through rehab; five days a week of trying to get that hamstring back to where it should be. It was a really big learning curve, which I’m glad I went through.”

And in his first competitive event back, Fanning did what he always seemed to do after tough times; he’d win.

A victory at Snapper Rocks.

Fanning recalls his third round victory over childhood hero Sunny Garcia as the moment he knew he was back: “People were telling me that I was surfing pretty well, but you just never know until you’re actually in that contest, in a heat, surfing against someone.”


Things all came together in 2007 for Fanning.

Three event wins and a host of high finishes secured his first title and the first world championship for an Australian since Mark Occhilupo’s 1999 crown.

Kelly Slater was second.

“At that point in time, Kelly and Andy [Irons] had such a strange hold of the world title. We were all pretty much just in a race for third,” said Fanning.

“I just got fed up with it. I was just like, I’m going to give it my all, and see what I can do to beat him.

“So I just buckled down as much as I could, and had a great year.”

Fanning celebrates his 2007 win in France.Source: Red Bull

Come 2009 and Fanning was watching his fellow ‘Cooly kid’ Joel Parkinson fly through the first half of the season.

An injury to Parkinson opened the door to Fanning, who initially looked to be out of reach of top spot.

“Joel up until that stage was just on fire, he was untouchable,” said Fanning.

“Unfortunately he had his ankle injury, and I was one of the first people he rang – I was nowhere in the title race or anything like that – I was trying to coach him through it.”

Fanning won three of the last five tournaments of the season, and secured an unlikely Tour win at the Pipe Masters.

“On the back half of the year, going on such a roll, it came down to Pipeline and we’re both in it; you want to be there for your best mate, but then you’ve got your own goals in mind.

“It was a bittersweet feeling when it all went down. I wanted to celebrate for sure, but then also too, I could feel the pain that my mate was in.

“We hugged it out. After that, I was in awe of him coming down and cheering me up the beach after it all happened.”

He had the opportunity to return the favour when Parkinson finally broke through with a Tour win in 2012.

And the very next year, Fanning became a three-time champion.

Squeezing past Slater again, Fanning joined Andy Irons on three championships – the only two in the Slater era of dominance to win multiple titles.

Needing to progress to the semis to secure the championship at Pipeline, Fanning pulled out two massive rides in Round 5 and the quarter-finals.

“Up until that stage, that’s what I trained for – trained for those clutch moments and those moments where you’ve got to be as good as you are in any other situation.

Fanning admits that he likely wouldn’t have had the composure required for the moment if he didn’t already have two championships to his name.

“With all that emotion that I’ve already felt in past titles, I probably wouldn’t have been in that situation, I probably would have freaked out. But who knows.”

Mick Fanning is chaired up the beach as the 2013 ASP World Champion.Source: Red Bull


Mick Fanning had won at Jeffreys Bay in 2002, 2004 and 2014. Come 2015 and Fanning was looking to repeat.

As we all know, that didn’t happen.

Instead, Fanning quite literally fought off a shark, successfully etching himself into Aussie folk lore for the rest of time. And while it caused a media frenzy, for Fanning it was more a reminder to take nothing for granted.

“I make sure that if I’m engaging with someone, I properly engage with them, make sure if I give a hug, if it’s a close friend, make sure they feel it,” said Fanning.

“It was just one of those things – it was close, and I’m lucky and I just keep trying to move forward.”

Most people wouldn’t fight off a shark, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t return to the same beach.

Well, Fanning went back to J-Bay in 2016, and he won. Because of course he did.

“For me, I felt like I had unfinished business there. I felt like I needed to go and do it for myself,” he said.

“I wanted to go back and just right the wrong, and once I did that it was a huge weight off my shoulders personally.

“I was very determined, but also I was very calm and confident that things were all going to be okay.”


At the end of 2015, Fanning suffered another painful blow.

His older brother Peter passed away in Australia, with Fanning receiving the news while competing at the Pipe Masters.

“Finding out the news early in the morning, it was hard,” said Fanning.

“And it was big Pipeline too that day. I had this sense of confidence that I would just go whatever, because I knew he’d be there looking after me and making sure I didn’t get hurt.

“I was really calm that day – obviously I was thinking about him all day – but just had a sense of confidence and calmness over me that everything was going to be okay.”


Fanning’s decision to retire is far from a spur of the moment decision. It’s something that he’d toyed with for a couple of years, and believes now to be the right moment.

He’ll surf Bells one last time, 17 years after winning there as an unknown wildcard.

“I just don’t have that drive. Winning world titles and winning events isn’t the be all and end all for me anymore. I feel like there’s more out there.”

An athlete that thrived when others would have fallen apart, Fanning won at Konica Skins on what would have been Sean’s 21st birthday, took out Snapper Rocks in his first competition back after tearing his hamstring off the bone, and conquered J-Bay a year after the attack. Obstacles that weren’t just dealt with, but categorically defeated.