Mick Fanning is making the most of his time off. As an ambassador for Wild Ark, a conservation non-profit, the three-time World Champion recently swapped his surfboard for a fishing rod to experience Alaska's Bristol Bay, a gorgeous river system under threat.
You've recently been up to Alaska, was that another surfing trip?
No, we didn't take our boards. I'm an ambassador for Wild Ark, a conservation movement that aims to protect and conserve the world's wild places and 100 of the top animal species. Just after the Trestles event we flew up to Bristol Bay in Alaska's southwest, which is basically the Serengeti of Alaska, with the founder of Wild Ark, Mark Hutchison. Ronnie Blakey came along for the ride and WSL photographer Kirstin Scholtz took the amazing photos.
What happens up in Bristol Bay?
We checked out a chunk of land where a company plans to build the world's largest open pit mine at the headwaters of two major river systems in the area. However, these systems are responsible for 50 percent of the world's wild salmon, so it desperately needs protecting. At Wild Ark the aim is to purchase land all around the world, leave it untouched and then create experiences for people that they can't have anywhere else.
And where did you stay?
We stayed at the Alaskan Sportsman's Lodge, and on each day we'd go to a different river, either by boat or floatplane. I'm not a big fisherman, but I loved it. Another night we camped out. We were walking around seeing bear shit, and there was talk of wolves, so we were freaking a little, but the place is so beautiful and so wild. It's incredible.
Did you see any bears?
On the first morning we were walking back to the river through the bush to go fishing and we turned to our left and there was a mother and her two cubs having a nap about five feet away. They just raised their heads slightly, looked at us and were like, "Pfffff, I'm over it, I'm way too full,' and rolled over. My eyes were popping out of my head.
A bit different from your average boat trip then?
Well, I'm lucky that I get to go to some of the most beautiful places on earth with my job, but we are trying to make it so that our children's children can go to these wild places and see these wild animals, be it in Alaska or Mongolia or Africa. We are trying to create sanctuaries and experiences where people can experience the beauty that we have. When people reconnect with these environments, I'm a hundred percent certain they will be fired up to protect it.
It sounds like you are pretty fired up too.
Well, that's the point, I'm learning all the time about parts of the world I have no idea about. If we can get people up here we can create an experience that lasts a lifetime. I mean I will never ever forget this last trip. At one stage Ronnie was just screaming out, "How good is the earth?!," at the top of his lungs (laughs). And a month or two down the track we are still texting and talking about it, so the experience stays with you. If I can influence others to experience that same thrill of nature, then hopefully we can all make a difference.