Before an encounter with a shark made him the focal point of a worldwide news story, Mick Fanning (AUS) was already an icon within the surf world. From a near career-ending injury to a comeback with three World Titles, the Aussie has seen and done a lot, both on the Championship Tour (CT) and off. Amid the media maelstrom is this primer on the man behind the headlines.
Michael Eugene Fanning was born in Penrith, New South Wales, Australia. He became a full-on surf grom at age 12, when his family moved to the coastal town of Tweed Heads in Queensland, Australia, according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing. Fanning would go on to become one of the so-called "Cooly Kids," which referred to three of Coolangatta, Australia's rising surf stars: Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Dean "Dingo" Morrison. The three grew up and surfed on the CT together, although Morrison dropped off in 2011.
1998: Family Loss
Fanning and his family were dealt a huge blow when his brother, Sean, died in a car accident. In an excerpt from his book, Surf for Your Life, Fanning described the night of the accident:
"The police took me home, and I had to tell everyone in my family. I ran in, woke Mum and told her. And then I rang Dad. Luckily my two brothers were there that night as well. ...It was pretty wild, being 17 and having to break such news."
Three years later, Fanning entered the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach as a wildcard and won. He dedicated his victory to Sean, who had also been on track to become a pro surfer.
2002: First Year on Tour
After his wildcard victory, Fanning went on to blitz the Qualifying Series, finishing in first position and qualifying for the elite ranks in 2002. Fanning had a remarkable first year on the elite Tour (then the ASP WCT) at age 22, including a win at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay. He finished the year at No. 5 in the world, and earned the Tour's prestigious Rookie of the Year Award. In 2003, he climbed one rank higher, to No. 4, and it seemed that the professional surfing world was his oyster.
2004: Injury Setback
Fanning tore his hamstring off the bone during a boat trip, and missed the second half of the CT season. He described the surgery in an interview with Surfer:
"What they do with it is they slice the back of your arse open and peel it back. Then they drill into your arse bone and put, like, a grappling hook in there. It's so strong the doctor said he was lifting me off the table just with the hook. And then they sew the ligament onto the grappling hook.
"So for the first six, eight weeks, that's why you can't do anything -- it's just the stitches holding it together. And you've just got to wait for the scar tissue to grow over the grappling hook."
Still, in a sign of things to come, Fanning said that the injury helped him regain his passion for surfing, and come back stronger than ever.
2007: Champion Crowned
Just three years after the injury that he thought would derail his career, the surfer dubbed "White Lightning" (for his light hair and speedy surfing) was back and better than ever. He made the Semifinals or better in eight of 10 contests that year, winning three events and his first World Title. The secret to his success was a newfound focus: He cut back on drinking, hired a trainer, and, as he told Surfing Magazine, "got really selfish. That's part of what you gotta do to win a Title. It's so f-d up."
Fanning secured his first World Title in Brazil on a day that saw dolphins in every one of his heats. He said at the time he believed it was his brother watching.
2009: Second World Title
The first half of the 2009 season belonged to Parkinson, who won the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay. But the second half was all Fanning's: Right after J-Bay, he won the Hurley Pro at Trestles, the Quiksilver Pro France, and the Rip Curl Search in Peniche, Portugal. He overtook Parkinson for the top spot, and scored his second Title.
2013: Third World Title
In 2013, Fanning won just one contest all year -- the Quiksilver Pro France -- but still managed to win the Championship. He narrowly edged out Kelly Slater (USA) and John John Florence (HAW) in dramatic fashion at the Billabong Pipe Masters -- only 250 points separated first and second place.
2014: Year of Medina
In 2014, the Title race came down to three surfers: Fanning, Slater, and Gabriel Medina (BRA). While the young Brazilian -- and Fanning's Rip Curl teammate -- ultimately took the Title, Fanning won at J-Bay along the way, with a post-event outlook that's in stark contrast to what would follow in 2015.
2015: Shark Attack
By 2015, Fanning has had 13 years on Tour, and is an esteemed veteran in the surf world. But on July 19, 2015, he was catapulted to the world stage when a shark attacked him during the Final at the J-Bay Open. He emerged unharmed and said he was "unlucky, but lucky, all in one sentence."