Mick Fanning is no stranger to feeling pressure at Pipeline. He has both won and lost a world title during the last event of the year, so he knows what Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo and Julian Wilson are feeling right now ... one month from the 2018 CT finale.
We rang the three time World Champion to get his take on how it feels to have an entire season come down to Pipe and to hear what he thinks might happen this year. Do Julian and Filipe stand a chance? Or is Medina's second world title a foregone conclusion?
The World Surf League: There was that three year span from 2013 to 2015 where the world title came down to Pipe. You won it on the final day once over Kelly Slater and lost it twice to Gabriel Medina and Adriano De Souza. Can you describe the way you felt heading into Hawaii those years?
Mick Fanning: In 2013 I was in the lead, but I still needed a big result to clinch. It was one of those hard years where it was just a grind really. But I went over to do Sunset first during each of those years, just to get a little time in the Hawaiian waters and to get into that head frame a little bit.
I tried to take a similar approach each time. I knew I needed big results and I knew I needed to focus on myself. And that's all you can do, really. Just focus on what you need to do and block out all the noise.
Which is harder, protecting a lead or chasing it at Pipe?
Man, they are totally different. When you are leading you have a glimmer of hope, but you also have this extra pressure because it's yours to lose.
Whereas when you are chasing, it's more just like, "Alright, I'm going to throw everything I have at it and if it happens, awesome. But if it doesn't then it wasn't mine to win." It's definitely two totally different pressures.
So you probably feel it a bit more when you are the one in the lead.
Definitely. Especially since, when you are in the lead, everyone hopes you lose [laughs].
In 2014 you and Gabe came into Pipe neck and neck, having both won three events. What was it like staying in a house together for a few weeks before the event?
It was actually pretty mellow. We are on totally different schedules. I like to get up early and get surfing and Gabe would typically go surfing as I was coming in.
We would hang out a little, but he did his own dinners, where I was kind of hanging with the rest of the crew. But it wasn't too bad. I think we respected each other and gave each other space leading up to the event.
Now that you're on the sidelines, what advice would you give to Julian and Filipe? How do they block out the noise, especially when their opponent is as dangerous as Medina?
Just don't get ahead of yourself. Sure, the end result is to win the contest to win the world title. But as bad and stupid and cliche as it sounds, it truly is heat by heat for those guys.
They have to get to the final or win the event. But how do they get there? By concentrating on one heat, fighting through it and never being satisfied. Either of them could have an 18 point heat, but they can't rest on that. They have to switch right back to what is in front of them.
The great thing about Pipe is how dangerous the wildcards are. And then with Slater and John re-entering the draw as lower seeds, there is a chance things get shaken up.
Yes, there definitely is. But Gabe is so gnarly [laughs]. He is going to be really tough to beat.
But that said, I find Pipe is more so about the wave. It feels like Pipeline chooses who it wants to win. You can sneak through a couple heats here and there, but there is always a point in the event where Pipe decides the winner.
You go back to Kelly vs Joel [Parkinson, in 2012], where it just goes flat on Kelly. Or last year, where Jeremy [Flores] gets the wave right on the last second … those things happen at Pipeline every year more so than at any other wave in the world. It's so weird.
That's true. Your wave against Yadin Nicol in 2013 was obviously one - it clinched your third world title. But did you feel like a certain moment went against you in the other two years?
Definitely. But I was fine with that. I walked away both of those years knowing I could not have been any more prepared. It's just that, at Pipeline, sometimes the waves just don't go your way and during those years they went to someone else.
That's the thing, at a lot of waves on tour you can find a way to sort of manufacture a win no matter what, but at Pipeline, you can't. Pipeline picks the winner.