Stab Magazine | Kraken's Stories From The Deep: Made of Sterner Stuff
312 Views

Kraken’s Stories From The Deep: Made of Sterner Stuff

In the final hours of Mick Fanning’s shot for a third world title, we look back on the thing that nearly stopped his first one… The worst year of Mick Fanning’s life had begun surprisingly well. He’d just come off a fourth place finish in the 2003 ASP title race, leading many to call 2004 […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the final hours of Mick Fanning’s shot for a third world title, we look back on the thing that nearly stopped his first one…

The worst year of Mick Fanning’s life had begun surprisingly well. He’d just come off a fourth place finish in the 2003 ASP title race, leading many to call 2004 his year. He’d shacked up with soon-to-be wife and swimsuit model, Karissa Dalton, bought the dream home overlooking Kirra he’d always wanted, and earned financial stability for his once destitute family. It looked peachy on the surface but behind the scenes things were beginning to unravel. “I don’t think I’d been home for more than a month in five years,” he recalls. “Everything just got to be so stressful.”

Fuel_TV_Insert

They call it sophomore syndrome. By years two and three, the tour reveals itself as the unforgiving environment it is and many young surfers wilt under the never-ending demand for results. After powering through the juniors, Mick had graduated to the Tour amid a hail of hype and speculation. He was a World Tour event winner before he’d even surfed a heat as a WCT competitor, having won Bells as a 19 year old wildcard. He qualified for the World Tour in emphatic fashion, winning the World Qualifying Series by the biggest margin in history. He continued the momentum in his first year with a win at J-Bay and a year-end fifth place finish to earn him the Rookie of the Year award. He went one better in 2003 with a fourth and it was said 2004 would be it. But Mick’s trademark desire was waning. The lustre of life in the travelling circus had faded and some of the more pressing realities of Tour life had set in. He might have had the dream house and the dream girl but he’d barely had the chance to crack a tin on the verandah yet. The Gold Coast, meanwhile, had suddenly turned into a zoo and he might as well have been the last White Tiger in captivity. “You get all these people in your ear going, ‘If you don’t do it this year…’ or, ‘You’ve got to be World Champ this year…’ Even just little random things like, ‘Oh, I’ve got my money on you this year.’ I really lost the passion for my surfing,” Mick told Surfer Magazine at the time.

When he agreed to a boat trip mid-2004 it was not a focused or mentally fit Mick Fanning that turned out for it. He remembers the decision that nearly ended his career with painstaking clarity.

“I can clearly remember the wave I ate shit on. I was feeling really confident because we’d been surfing so much. I decided to float a section I could have probably pulled into. As I came down tail first I felt my back foot come off, my front foot stayed on and I did the splits. At that point it was like time slowed right down,” he recalls.

It was an awkward position but nothing too serious, until the six foot lip exploded on his back. His left hamstring snapped and ripped off the bone. “I kicked my legs to get to the surface but my left leg didn’t move. I kicked again and it felt like I had the world’s worst cramp and I couldn’t get it to go away. When I got the surface I let out a scream and then wore a few six foot sets on the head,” he recalls.

Rip Curl Pro, Darren O’Rafferty was on hand to call for the dinghy. They plucked Mick from the water and got him back to the boat where they strapped the only frozen thing they had to his leg – a frozen chook – and fed him some mysterious orange painkillers. “Not sure what they were but they must have worked because I went from crying to laughing in a matter of seconds,” he recalls. His tendon had coiled up in his leg and now sat in a clump the size of a cricket ball at the top of his hamstring. Which is how it stayed all the way through the harrowing 57 hour mission back to first world healthcare. First a ten hour boat trip to the nearest airport in Sibolga, then some under the table negotiations with Indonesian officials to get him on the plane, another flight to Medan, Medan to Singapore, and Singapore to Australia.

The prognosis from the doctors wasn’t good. He’d need experimental surgery if he was to have any hope of resurrecting his career and even then there were no guarantees. The procedure would require doctors to cut a giant hole in his arse to access the tendon. They’d then drill a metal grappling hook into his thigh bone, which would be used to attach his hamstring to his pelvis. In order to test the strength of the hook the doctor lifted Mick of the operating table by the hook during the procedure. He was out of the water for six months and many thought that was that. Game over. Mick looks back on the ordeal today as one of the most formative in his career. Far from kill his ambition, it gave him the chance to do all the things he’d never had the chance to as an upcoming star, as well as some time to really sit and think about what it was he wanted. The answer was abundantly clear: a world title. And he set out on the long road back. In the course of the rehab program he discovered the experimental C.H.E.K training program; its wholistic approach to posture, balance and core strength proving a revelation for his surfing. The program would go onto set a world wide trend in surf conditioning in the coming years. When he returned to competition, fittingly at his home break Snapper for the Quiksilver Pro, few could have predicted what would happen. In front of 20, 000 fans he beat two world champions in Sunny Garcia and Andy Irons on his way to a famous victory. As he lines up at Pipe this week against the greatest of all time, Kelly Slater, the immense pain of his past will be behind him. – Jed Smith

Follow Jed on Twitter, here.

Comments

Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up

Advertisement

Most Recent

The WSL Pumps Over 10 Million USD Per Year Into CT Prize Money

Here’s how much surfers make, and how dramatically that’s changed over the years.

Feb 7, 2023

The Worst Day Of Competitive Surfing (So Far) In 2023

With 2-point heat wins and 30-minute lulls, Day 3 of the Billabong Pro Pipeline was…

Feb 7, 2023

23:26

Unlocked: ‘Toasted,’ By Caity Simmers

Your favorite surfer directs, edits, and stars in her first feature film. 

Feb 6, 2023

2:29

More Dane Reynolds Than You Can Stomach In One Serving

Chapter 11 TV is everything surf media needs.

Feb 6, 2023

Kanoa Igarashi On Concussions, Goose Chases, Title Visions, The Three Types Of Surfers CT’ers Encounter In The Water, And More

A candid and wide-ranging conversation with 2022 World #5.

Feb 5, 2023

Can Small-Scale Investors Buy Into Wave Pools?

Say you got $10k and a dream — what can you do?

Feb 4, 2023

An Early Pipeline Exit For Stephanie Gilmore Amidst GenZ Glory

Day Two of the 2023 CT season was a clear notice that the kids are…

Feb 3, 2023

Hand-Shaping, Glassing, And Finishing ’70s-Inspired Displacement Hulls Will Not Make You Rich

Profile: Tristan Mausse of Fantastic Acid is in it for all the right reasons.

Feb 3, 2023

Hassling, Head-Dips, and Broken Apple Watches

The 2023 CT is underway. Here's what happened on Day One of the Billabong Pro…

Feb 2, 2023

Stephanie Gilmore And Filipe Toledo Are The 2022 Stab Surfers Of The Year 

Caity and Hughie take Best Juniors, “NOZ VID” wins best film, and Ho and Pringle…

Feb 2, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: The Stab Premium Vote

Day Ten: You voted, we counted.

Feb 1, 2023

Red Bulls, Crypto Bears, Former’s Six-Figure Fish, Tyler’s Multi-Millions And More

A brief catalog of the latest surf industry news and whispers.

Jan 31, 2023

20:37

“Definitely The First Time I’ve Gone Surfing Via Plane”

Parker Coffin, Harrison Roach, and friends tear through NZ on Roark's most well-rounded surf trip…

Jan 30, 2023

Pipe Preview: This Year Feels Different

With John and Gabs healthy — and the arrival of the femme next-gen — here’s…

Jan 29, 2023

WSL Tells Competitors: ‘You Better Like Them Apples’

Will mandating competitors to wear Apple Watches make the 2023 tour more or less engaging?

Jan 29, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: John John Florence, Italo Ferreira, Balaram Stack, Rolo Montes, and Shaun Manners

Day 9: "You can't do better than his year last year." - John John Florence

Jan 28, 2023

Full Moon Surfs, Impassable Puddles, And A Few Nights Spent Sleeping In A WSL Commentary Booth

A reader-submitted collection of nonconformist surf stories.

Jan 27, 2023

Kael Walsh Now Owns A Bitcoin, And Watched One Crypto Video

He’s officially your Stab Edit Of The Year champion.

Jan 27, 2023
Advertisement