The Sportswriter – The Other Champs
Words by Sam McIntosh Photo by Steve Sherman In the past 20 years, only Mick Fanning and Andy Irons have waged multiple world-title campaigns against Kelly Slater. Andy ain’t here to talk so we asked Mick what it takes to beat a man who, on the eve of birthday 40, has just taken down title […]
Photo by Steve Sherman
In the past 20 years, only Mick Fanning and Andy Irons have waged multiple world-title campaigns against Kelly Slater. Andy ain’t here to talk so we asked Mick what it takes to beat a man who, on the eve of birthday 40, has just taken down title 11…
The Sportswriter: What have you and Andy had that no other surfers in the past 20 years have had? What has set you guys apart?
Mick: Belief. Andy had the belief he could beat anyone and when people said he couldn’t, that was like waving the red flag to bull. A lot of people can’t perform when they’re fired up or mad. For Andy it kinda worked. I’ve never competed against a more aggressive competitor than Andy and I doubt Kelly has either. His hunger to win was unmatchable. He had a confidence and belief that you couldn’t shake, and when everything was coming together for him he was straight up scary to surf against. He wanted to beat you so bad. I also think Andy buried his respect and admiration for Kelly really deep or just ditched it all together and learned to hate him. We all grew up looking up to Kelly and wanting to be like him and I think Kelly’s always aware of that. But, when Andy gave him nothing and talked shit I think it rattled Kelly. They became mates when the rivalry died down but for a few years there they were enemies and I think that’s how Andy got ahead of him.
While those two had been battling it out I’d been building towards my first title. Since I was on tour I’d placed fifth, then fourth, then third and then third again. Every year I was building confidence because I was heading in the right direction. After I tore my hammy I really didn’t want to be a guy on tour happy to place in the top 10. I wanted to win more than ever before and I believed I could. I probably owed some of that belief to Andy for showing us it could be done.
The end of 2006 was a massive confidence booster for me, I made the finals of the last five events. I knew if I could get a good start and finish strong again I’d have a shot. In my head I’d decided 2007 was going to be my year and I believed I could do it. I also knew if I came up against Kelly in a heat I was going to beat him… I don’t think I’d really believed I could up until then. The thing about going for a World Title though is that it’s pretty rare that you’ll actually surf against your main rival. Taj was also in contention in 2007 but I was less worried about him, it seemed I couldn’t relax until Kelly was out of the event.
When Andy was beating Kelly there really wasn’t any weakness in his act. He was strong at every event. Going into 2007 I knew I had weaknesses so I addressed it. Tahiti was my worst event. I sucked out there and the place rattled me. I went there two weeks early in ‘07 to get used to riding backhand barrels. When I finished second I had this belief I could then match them at any wave in any conditions.
When Brazil rolled around that year I could vividly picture myself lifting the trophy.
Kelly wasn’t in my head at all. My nerves left and I was so calm and relaxed. Once you get that title you get the belief. I only needed an event to go my way in 2009 after a shocking start to get that belief back. Once I got the feeling I knew what I had to do to win and even though Parko had a massive lead I didn’t think for a second I wouldn’t get there.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve ever learnt about Kelly? The most interesting thing about Kelly is how much he loves a conspiracy theory. He also loves to debate and argue points. Sometimes, I think he doesn’t even believe what he’s arguing – he just likes to see if people will challenge him. He’s a smart guy and is always self-educating and trying to figure out ways to improve his body and mind.
What’s the best compliment or insult Kelly has ever paid you? Last year after the banquet he sent me a text saying sorry he didn’t mention me in his speech and said thanks for being a true friend. I thought that was really cool as I would never expect him to mention me anyway.
What are Kelly’s vulnerabilities? The only time I ever see him crumble is when his mind is elsewhere and not concentrating on what’s in front of him but that happens to everyone so I don’t know if that is being vulnerable. Just the way life is sometimes.
Do you feel like you know Kelly? Does anyone really know Kelly? Over the past few years we have become good friends but that’s taken a while. Kelly’s a really nice guy but I think he makes it difficult for people to get to know him. Probably a way of protecting himself. It would be easy to have a gang of arselickers around you if you were that famous but I think Kelly keeps people at a distance until he knows he can trust them. That’s probably the reason some people find him a little hard to work out. Kelly definitely has a tight inner circle of mates though and I think they know him really well. I know he really appreciates those people like no other which is really special.
What has Kelly sacrificed to be world champ? I’m sure earlier in his career he made gnarly sacrifices. I’m not exactly sure what Kelly has given up but for me going for a World Title meant sacrificing time with my family and friends and also cutting myself off socially. These days though I don’t think Kelly sacrifices anything. I think he knows how to balance things out and still contest a title. He seems happy travelling with Kalani and has close mates on the road with him, too.
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