Mick Fanning will dislodge Kelly Slater as the most famous surfer of all time
A Stab teamer recently hired a Hertz from a California outlet, via booking made over a screen with an attendant in a different location. “And what do you do?” asked the pixelated, middle-aged lady. “Oh, how about Mick Fanning!” was her reply to surf media. “Honey, I’m from Oklahoma, but everyone knows Mick Fanning. He was on […]
A Stab teamer recently hired a Hertz from a California outlet, via booking made over a screen with an attendant in a different location. “And what do you do?” asked the pixelated, middle-aged lady. “Oh, how about Mick Fanning!” was her reply to surf media. “Honey, I’m from Oklahoma, but everyone knows Mick Fanning. He was on the news for three full days in a row. Three days! I’d never even seen surfing on the news before. Uh-huh, Kelly Slater, I’ve heard of him… remind me who he is? Oh that’s a lot. But Mick Fanning is the most famous surfer in the world now!”
Firstly, here’s a disclaimer that’s so obvious it’s almost unnecessary; Kelly Slater’s legacy is phenomenal, and untouchable. The Floridian’s won 11 world titles and 54 World Tour events. He was the first surfer to land a frontside 540. He dated Cameron Diaz, Pam Anderson, and appeared on Baywatch. Despite not stomping it, he invented the rodeo clown… and chose the Pipe Masters to unveil it. And so very much more. Kelly is, and always will be, the most important surfer ever to live. But, he is no longer the most famous.
Because Mick Fanning is the world’s most famous surfer.
You see, Mick survived a shark attack. On live TV. And in an age so horny for stories like this (and with the means to powerfully communicate them), that has set in motion a chain of events that will continue to gain momentum. Mick will become more of a household name with every moment. And here’s what those moments will be:
Mick’s first heat back will be in Tahiti. Later that night, 90-second slots will flood every evening news program in the world, to show the Australian pulling on his jersey, jumping off the boat, and beating Adam Melling and Taumata Puhetini. He’ll then go on to finish with a ninth (at least) and take the yellow leader’s jersey.
And then he’ll win the world title this year. And WSL Photographer Kirstin Scholtz will capture an image of Mick raising a silver cup above his head, emotions boiling over, which will become as iconic as Greg Noll on a Hawaiian Beach. And he will probably win again next year. And the Internet and global news will continue to devour a story that blends human interest, survival and sports action more perfectly than any before it.
But let’s break it down a little more.
Kelly Slater has made more non-surf noise than any other surfer. Prior to the J-Bay final, Mick had won three world titles, but was still relatively unknown outside surfing. The death of four-time world champ Andy Irons in his early 30s was a story that briefly penetrated the ozone of our little surf world. But Mick and a shark is something else entirely. Here’s why:
Ever been on the beach during a heat at the Pipe Masters and had your back turned when you hear the crowd roar to life? It can mean one of only three things. An incredible tube, a blown takeoff or a surfer flying a kick-out into the air. The first is difficult and what we came to see. The kick out, as we all know, takes only a modicum of skill and is virtually worthless. But, which do you think the non-surfers on the beach find more thrilling? Hint: It ain’t the tube.
Presumably, like everyone else here, you’ve never had so many non-surfers ask you about a surf-related incident before. And, here’s where Mick’s run-in differs from the flying kick out. It’s as freakish for us as it is any non-surfer. It connects with core and mainstream equally. This attack didn’t get wasted in the early round of a world Tour or Q event, either. It featured the second and third rated surfers in the world, in the final at perfect J-Bay. Whoever won was about to take the ratings lead. And, with that it was the first time in history a surfer who wasn’t Brazilian was going to wear the yellow leader’s jersey (it only started at the beginning of 2014). We were all glued to our screens. Which Australian was going to take the lead? Surfing had our attention already.
And then a splash, and Martin Potter said Holy Shit, and a wave lurched to cover the screen, and every surfer watching assumed Mick Fanning had just died on live TV. Four camera angles had captured the most documented shark attack in history.
For a period following that moment, Mick become the most Googled name in the world (higher than Barry Obama). This was the world’s most trending story for three days. The WSL’s YouTube of the event has had, as of writing, 21,543,039 views. Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Ellen all offered their private jets to fly Mick to the States and appear on their shows. The fact that he turned them down was news. The fact that he requested one press conference was news. The fact that he gave his story exclusively to one media house, and then donated the appearance fee to a shark attack victim, was most definitely news. For weeks, Mick Fanning shared headline space with plane crashes, terror attacks, mainstream sports, politics and the dynasty whose surname starts with K.
And still, the story will continue to develop. The world title race is wide open this year. And, it’s no secret that Mick Fanning owns the tail-end of the tour. As the fatigue of travel and a long year kicks in, Mick is famous for finding a renewed energy and has won his three world titles this way. Sure, Mick is surrounded by a great field but no other surfer has an unshakeable mind like Mick. Adriano De Souza will lose his lead at Teahupoo, Julian Wilson is still without the experience required to win a title and Owen Wright hasn’t brought his consistency this year. Kelly can handle the pressure but he’s out of the race, John John Florence has the public’s attention but has been injured, and Filipe Toledo is adored but he doesn’t yet have the varied skillset to pull keeper results in Tahiti, Europe and Hawaii.
And, every time Mick Fanning paddles out for a heat this year, the mainstream media will be there. They’ll be replaying the J-Bay footage. And, he won’t win every heat but he’ll get a 17-point total more often than he doesn’t. Because that’s what he always does. He might have survived a shark attack and someone might get a 10 from under his priority but he will go out and get the two waves he needs to win, better and more consistently than anyone else alive right now.
Once he wins the world title this year, he’ll do it again next year, and behind Kelly Slater, he’ll become the second most successful competitive surfer in history. And the non-surf realm will never forgot the five-time world champion who survived a shark attack on live broadcast.
Kelly Slater will be remembered by surfers forever. And Mick Fanning will be remembered by the world forever.
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