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

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.”


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.


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