Mick Fanning has admitted the tour was caught out by last week’s macking Cloudbreak swell. “At Cloudbreak we know now that with the right equipment we could surf heats in massive swell. I think in the future if we’re presented with the same kind of swell in an event window everyone on tour will be properly prepared and ready to go,” he says in this exclusive interview.
As the swell of the century thundered down the reef at Cloudbreak, Fanning found himself in an unenviable position. As a Surfers’ Union representative, the decision whether the contest would run or not – a call that could have cost someone their life – was looking to fall on him (he was able to remove himself from the process, however). Once it was called off, he then found himself on a boat in the channel with his wife begging him not to surf, no boards even if he wanted to and the sickening feeling one of the great moments in surfing history was about to pass him by. Then a brown-faced angel with tattooed fists fluttered by. “I was happy to lend him my 8’0,” recalls Hawaiian underground charger, Kala Alexander, who came to Fanning’s rescue with one of his boards. That board would end up in pieces before too long but not before Fanning snagged a couple of waves he’ll never forget.
What are your reflections on the day?
It completely blew my mind. I couldn’t believe what my eyeballs were seeing. The guys that have dedicated their lives to chasing those monster swells were awesome. They were so prepared and ready to go, it was epic to witness. To get out there and get a couple and take a beating is something I’ll never forget.
What was your gut feeling when you first saw it that morning?
I actually missed the first two heats and when I got out there it was starting to clean up. So my gut feeling was, I’m out there whether this event is on or not. My wife was with me and she didn’t want me to go out but I couldn’t sit on the boat and watch. It was heavy.
Can you talk us through how the decision was made not to run the contest?
I didn’t get too involved in the decision. I didn’t want to be their speaking for everyone and making the decision on behalf of someone that might wanna go out. The waves were bigger and heavier than most of us on tour have surfed. Matt Wilson, the contest director, pretty much made the executive decision in the end and he did with the safety of the surfers in mind. Maybe if Raoni didn’t get buckled in the second heat it would have made it harder to call it off.
Who was vocal for and against it?
Nobody was particularly vocal. People have become more opinionated in hindsight but it was a huge decision. Serious injury and peoples lives had to be considered.
What were the arguments?
I don’t really think there was any arguments, just some in-depth conversations taking all things into consideration.
Were there liability and insurance issues raised about death and injury?
Not that I know of. There were certainly concerns about death and injury but I don’t think insurance liability was part of the decision process.
Was the right decision made?
I think it was. Surfing waves like that is all about preparation. In the past if the swell got that big the event would run at Restaurants. That was my thinking so I didn’t pack any monster guns in my quiver. I was lucky enough that Kala Alexander was cool enough to lend me his 8’0″ so I could get out there and have a crack at it. I broke the board in the end so I owe him big time. Not everyone had access to the necessary equipment and that would have meant you got guys out there under-gunned or on unfamiliar boards. That’s just dangerous. When I was paddling out I realised a lot of the big wave guys were wearing those thin life vests. I felt like a dick for not having one. I felt I was risking my life but I also would have been risking the lives of the water patrol had I got in serious trouble.
I think there will be debate about the decision forever. It would have been unreal to see how the top 32 handled it. In Tahiti we can only paddle into the Chopes up until a certain size before we need tow assistance, but at Cloudbreak we know now that with the right equipment we could surf heats in massive swell. I think in the future if we’re presented with the same kind of swell in an event window everyone on tour will be properly prepared and ready to go. - Jed Smith