Stab Magazine | Mick Fanning's Wild Competitive Ride, By The Years

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Mick Fanning’s Wild Competitive Ride, By The Years

Buckle up. 

news // Mar 2, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Life’s complicated—and it’s seldom easy. Since he qualified for the world tour in 2002 as a spry 22-year-old, Mick Fanning’s been living his life in the white-hot spotlight of surf stardom. There have been ups. There have been downs. He’s reached the pinnacle of the sport, and it’s also almost taken his life. Surfing has given him everything, and yet today, as he stepped away from the competitive arena.  

Let’s revisit his career in and outside of a singlet. 


In ’96 the bow-legged, towheaded kid from Tweed Heads was a finalist in the Aussie nationals. Those that were paying attention had a feeling that Mick and the “Coolie Kids” were going places. 

MIck Young 2


Sourced from


Just as Mick was hurdling the over the rank and file Australian amateurs, tragedy struck. His brother Sean and fellow surfer Joel Green were killed in a car accident. Mick was offered a ride in the car but passed and at 17 years old the burden fell on him to break the heavy news to his family. He was rattled to the core.

“Sean and I were going to do the pro tour together; that was our dream,” he said in a 2009 interview.

It took time for the wound to start to heal, but Mick eventually returned to surfing and came to find solace in the ocean. He made it his mission to qualify for the tour.

mick and sean

Mick and Sean Fanning.



Blitzing the QS in 2001, by 2002 Mick was on tour and on fire. He finished the year ranked fifth in the world and came away with ASP Rookie of the Year honors. In 2003, he went one better and finished fourth. Considered “the fastest surfer on tour” at the time, the speed and accuracy with which he attacked every section earned him the moniker “White Lightning.”

Damien Bredberg Mick Lightning


Damien Bredberg/Red Bull Content Pool


Winning contests by day and partying by night, in 2004 Mick/Eugene was winning at the game of life, but it couldn’t last. Before he could get on a roll and win a title, Mick was subjected to another test. A mistimed floater in Indonesia resulted in a near career-ending injury when he tore his hamstring clean off the bone in his hip. Title aspirations for the year were immediately dashed. He spent the entire season rehabbing and refocusing.


Mick came into the 2005 season with a head full of steam. He was razor-sharp in the first contest of the year at Snapper Rocks and took the win in front of the hometown crowd. A few weeks later, he ran it back at Mark Richards’ 4-Star QS comp in Newcastle. He was rolling. That year he’d win three CT events, finish runner-up in another and make four semifinals. If Andy hadn’t gotten in his way, he would have won the title.


Glory came in 2007 when Mick brought home Australia’s first world title in 15 years. He dedicated it to his late brother Sean. 


His second title came two years later, when Mick outlasted best mate, Joel Parkinson, in a showdown at the Pipe Masters.

“I won the title 2007 but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel the second time round, I thought I might have been a little more prepared but I wasn’t,” Mick explained in a 2010 interview. “I guess the circumstances were pretty incredible with Joel still in the running and when it was in the bag I was just really overwhelmed. It’s been a pretty intense lead-up to this moment, I’ve been trying to maintain my composure and focus but the truth is to be in that position the past couple of months has been pretty bloody stressful.”

mick chris

What’s that saying about lightning and striking twice?


Chris Stacey/


Mick’s third title arrived in 2013, and again, it all came down to Pipeline. He slipped by CJ Hobgood in pumping conditions. At this point in his career, he was starting to focus more on enjoying the ride and not just chasing results, akin to Kelly’s “letting go” moment in 2005.

“It was a fun year. I just really wanted to enjoy my time on tour,” said Mick after clinching title number three. “I wanted to breathe, soak in how lucky we are, and enjoy it.” 

Brian Bielmann

Back in 2013, when Red Bull’s doubled as sippy cups.


Brian Bielmann/Red Bull Content Pool


In the hunt all the way until the end, Mick finished runner-up behind Gabriel Medina.


Right there again in 2015, once again, fate intervened. Two minutes into the final of the J-Bay Open, Mick was hit from bellow by a large Great White Shark. He threw a few punches and was able to escape from the animal, but he was understandably shaken up. The incident made international news, and while Mick was physically fine, it would take a while to collect his wits. Miraculously, he was in the hunt for the title at the end of the year but was once again faced with the shocking news that one of his brothers had unexpectedly passed away. At the same time, he was also dealing with the end of his marriage. The emotional baggage was a lot to bear by the time the WSL season ended. 

Screen Shot 2018 02 28 at 8.56.28 PM

Mick and Jules embrace after the most famous J-Bay final to never have a winner.




He took the 2016 season off as a “personal” year. Rip Curl sent him to a bunch of far-flung destinations to help him hit the reset button and rekindle the fire. It was during this time he also started to apply his acumen as a businessman. Along with Parko, Bede Durbidge, Josh Kerr and a few other friends, he invested in the launch of Balter Brewing Company. The beer company has since taken off. He also inked a deal to serve as an ambassador for Mercedes Benz, took an ownership state in Creatures of Leisure, and most recently, launched his own line of soft-top surfboards.


Rattlesnake! Rattlesnake! Rattlesnake!


Rip Curl


Left to Right: Bede Durbidge (Founder), Scotty Hargrave (Head Brewer), Josh Kerr (Founder), Stirling Howland (Founder/Brand Director), Mick Fanning (Founder), Ant Macdonald (Founder/GM), Sean Ronan (Founder), Joel Parkinson (Founder)


Balter Beer


Mick never really regained the form of focus of old when he returned in 2017. The passion and will to strive towards another title simply weren’t there. It showed in a string of mediocre results. 


And now, after 16 years on tour, he’s stepping away to start the next chapter of his life. Whatever that looks like, it will more than likely involve flying down the line at sand-bottom, right-hand pointbreaks, enjoying a beer with friends, and helping bringing up all those around him. 

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Just in case you missed this image in the story about Ted Grambeau’s new book, “Adventures in Light”.


Ted Grambeau


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