Mick Fanning conquered the waves many times in his glittering surfing career. On Thursday, the ocean struck back, robbing the triple world champion of a perfect ending.
Fanning, in his last professional event, was beaten in the final minutes of the Rip Curl Pro final at Bells Beach by Brazilian Italo Ferreira.
With the clock ticking down, the Australian needed a 7.59 wave to win. With 90 seconds remaining, he let the last ridable wave go, giving Ferreira his first championship tour win.
Fanning embraced the Brazilian on the water – beaten on the day, but still a champion. His career included world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2013 and four Bells Beach victories.
“It’s very special,” Fanning, 36, told World Surf League of making the final. “I always wanted to finish here at Bells.
“I just have learned so much and I walk away with so many great memories.
“I guess [I will miss] just sitting there and just the friendships, but … that’s the thing, I can just alway show up and annoy people … I tell you what I won’t miss is 6.30am starts.”
16 years around the globe, 22 Tour wins, 3 World Titles and a finish to remember. Today not only marked the end of an incredible career, but also the beginning of a whole new adventure. #CheersMick @Mick_Fanning pic.twitter.com/HeHMD0idmv
— Rip Curl (@ripcurl) April 5, 2018
Fanning finished as runner-up in the 57th Rip Curl Pro, but was carried from the water across the crowded beach by friends and supporters as if he had won. Former champion surfer Martin Potter, now a commentator for World Surf League, described it as an “incredible way to go out”.
“That is almost as good as it gets,” Potter said.
Fanning, 36, grew up on the Queensland-NSW border and came to prominence at the Australian national titles in 1996. His international career began with a wildcard entry to the Bells Beach event in 2001. By the next year he was on the world tour.
In 2004, he suffered a career-threatening injury while surfing in the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra, tearing his hamstring off the bone. But he was back on the world tour six months later – winning in front of 20,000 fans at his home break, Snapper Rocks.
In July 2015, Fanning famously fought off what was believed to be a great white shark while surfing at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. He punched the shark and tried to put his board between it and his body, before swimming for shore.
“I’m just happy to be alive,” he said immediately – and tearfully – afterwards.
Fanning returned to Australia and was back in the water a week later – dedicating his return to his brother Sean, who was killed in a road accident in 1998.
That was followed by the break-up of his marriage to Karissa Dalton in January 2016.
Throughout their marriage, Dalton, a former swimsuit model turned wedding blogger, had chosen to focus on her career rather than interviews and the social circuit. This meant the couple, who met when Dalton was just 20, spent considerable time apart, with Fanning on tour for much of the year.
The surfing legend announced his retirement in late February, saying he had lost the drive to compete. He has said little about what the future holds, although he has a share in a craft brewery on the Gold Coast and owns a surfboard company.
“I’ve had an amazing career,” he said yesterday, still wet from the Southern Ocean.