World surfing champion Mick Fanning is just as likely to be seen walking his dog than hitting the waves in the build-up to the start to his title defence.
Fanning has made the most of a couple of months off tour after claiming his third world crown in December last year, recharging his batteries ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast.
While the 32-year-old hasn’t completely ditched the surfing, he hasn’t taken part in any of the build-up events to the world championship opener, and on days when his local breaks on the Gold Coast aren’t offering much, he’s happily kept himself dry.
“It’s essential. In the first couple of weeks you’re just so psyched that it happened and you’re saying `yes’ to everything, all these appearances and everything, so by the time you get to the event you’re just a bit rundown,” Fanning told AAP.
“I just really wanted to give myself time. It’s my off-season and I just wanted to make it an off-season. Spend time with my family and friends and the dog.”
Former world champion Mark Occhilupo predicts Fanning, 2012 world champ Joel Parkinson and legendary American surfer Kelly Slater are poised to dominate the title race once more in 2014.
Fanning, a two-time Quiksilver Pro winner, fully expects to be battling it out with 11-time world champion Slater and Parkinson once more on the waves off Coolangatta.
“You obviously want to win at home as much as anyone else but there’s so many good guys on tour now you’ve really got to be on your game from day dot,” he said.
“If you start thinking about the final or whatever, you’re not even going to get through your first round.”
Slater, 42, admits it’s been tough after being pipped to the title in the past two seasons by Parkinson and Fanning, and says if that had happened earlier in his career he would have struggled to cope.
“If I didn’t have a world title and those last two years happened, my confidence would probably be pretty shot,” he said.
“Win, lose or draw, that’s part of the excitement. When you have a close battle with anybody … that’s what makes sport.
“I’m happy it was a close finish even though I was on the wrong side of it the last two years but that’s life.”
The Quiksilver Pro and women’s Roxy Pro start on Saturday.
Australians Matt Banting and Keely Andrew have earned the final spots in the field for the opening event of the men’s and women’s world championship.
Banting rode a near perfect 9.10 wave for two-wave best score of 16.35 to win the men’s wildcard qualifiers at Snapper Rocks on Friday.
Sunshine Coast product Andrew was too good in the women’s qualifying final, posting a 9.00 wave on the buzzer for a two-wave score of 17.25 to win by 4.80 points from Australia’s Isabella Nichols.