Australian surfer Mick Fanning visibly shook as he spoke following a successful round in the Pipeline Masters in Hawaii, but the emotion had nothing to do with the ride.
Just hours before he took to the water on Thursday morning, Fanning received heartbreaking news.
His eldest brother Peter reportedly passed away in his sleep in Australia on Wednesday night at the age of 43.
In spite of the incredibly sad news, Fanning pushed on in his bid for a fourth world title.
He surfed an incredible round against 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and Hawaiian competitor John John Florence to advance to the quarter-finals.
Later, Fanning described Peter as a “hero” to him, who was dearly loved.
“I have so many great memories of the good times we have all spent together and they will be with me forever,” he wrote in a post to social media.
“We recently caught up and he told me how proud he was of me and how much he loves watching me compete.
“Today was one of the most challenging days of my life but I knew I could find the strength to take part in the final event of the season because that’s what Pete would want.”
I am so grateful for the incredible love and well wishes that have come my way since learning of my eldest brother’s passing this morning. Like all my big brothers, Peter will always be a hero to me. I have so many great memories of the good times we have all spent together and they will be with me forever. We recently caught up and he told me how proud he was of me and how much he loves watching me compete. Today was one of the most challenging days of my life but I knew I could find the strength to take part in the final event of the season because that’s what Pete would want. I also want to give special thanks to my other brothers – my friends on tour – for their support, I couldn’t have got through today without them. I would ask for some privacy on this matter while we come to terms with this devastating loss. Big thanks from our entire family. Tell the special people in your life you love them and give them a hug.
A photo posted by Mick Fanning (@mfanno) on
Fanning could barely contain his emotions when he spoke to WSL commentator Peter Mel after Thursday’s round.
“It’s been a huge day, I’ve just got some personal stuff going on at home, which is sort of heavy to talk about right now,” Fanning said.
Mel was also overcome with the moment’s emotion and said: “You are unbelievable Mick Fanning.”
See the interview below
Sadly, it is not the first brother he has lost
Thursday’s heartbreak followed the tragic loss of his brother Sean 17 years ago.
Fanning had dreamed of surfing the pro tour with his older brother Sean. But in a split second in 1998, that hope was lost.
Fanning, then 16, was at a party with Sean, Sean’s mate Joel, and some other friends in a garage at an industrial estate.
He declined a lift home with Sean and Joel, who were getting a lift with one of their girlfriends.
“A little while later I was walking with my mates when this car pulled up … then two family friends got out of the car and said ‘Mick, get in the car’,” he wrote in Surf For Your Life, a co-authored autobiography.
“It was an unmarked police car, and they told me that Sean and Joel had just died in an accident.
“I totally freaked out. Their car had hit a gutter and ploughed into a tree just down the road from our house.”
The youngest of five children, Fanning grew up with his mother after his parents John and Elizabeth divorced when he was two years old.
Sean’s death hit him hard.
“[It] felt like I grew up 10 years in a few weeks,” he said.
Surfing in the blood
Fanning picked up a board at a young age, learning to surf at just five years old.
Making it as a pro was his ultimate goal.
At just 22, he won the ASP Rookie of the Year award, but his ascent to the top of the surfing world was brought to an abrupt halt when he suffered a complete hamstring tear in 2004.
Major surgery and six months of intense rehab followed before he could make it back into the water.
Through determination and hard work, his dream was back on track just three years later when he claimed his first ASP World Championship Tour title.
He married long-term girlfriend Karissa Dalton in 2008.
Earlier this year, he narrowly dodged death while competing at the J-Bay Open surf event in South Africa.
Dramatic vision showed a shark fin glide towards the Australian champion and knock him off his board.
“I saw the whole thing just thrashing around … I punched it a couple of times, but I felt like it was dragging me under water,” he said after the incident.
His family were watching the competition on TV when Fanning disappeared under the water.
“I thought, the universe can’t be this cruel,” Fanning’s mother Elizabeth Osbourne told 60 Minutes in August.
Fanning will continue his tilt at the world surfing title in a quarter-final match-up against Slater early Friday morning (AEST).