- WSL / Kirstin Scholtz
- WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Today, on Australia Day 2017 -- perhaps the most important of all Australian holidays -- three-time WSL World Champion Michael Eugene "Mick" Fanning was bestowed with one of his country's highest civilian honors: Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) medal of honor. It's an award presented by the Australian government to individuals who've earned recognition for charitable works and distinguished service. Specifically, the 35-year-old was recognized for his "service to surfing as a professional competitor at the national and international level and as a supporter of a wide range of charitable foundations."

Mick Fanning winning his semifinal at the JBay Open in South Africa. Mick Fanning's win at J-Bay in 2016 was remarkable on multiple levels. - WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

A "stunned" Fanning told the Australian press that the award "is right up there with the World Titles, I couldn't believe it, really. I'm chuffed [proud] and very honored." Although not often front-page news even in his home country, Fanning is noted for working with influential global organizations like Make a Wish and the Starlight Foundation.

Mick Fanning (AUS) surfing during Heat 6 of Round Two at The Hurely Pro Trestles Mick Fanning, Hurley Pro at Trestles. - WSL / Sean Rowland

Following the announcement, Fanning was over the moon, posting on Instagram to his nearly 1 million followers: "I'm freaking out! Beyond honored to be named an Officer of the Order of Australia today along with some amazing people. I love my country and its characters. Feeling so proud and happy right now." Fanning joined a long list of distinguished inductees, including iconic Australian indie rocker Nick Cave.

Mick Fanning at Snapper Rocks
Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson are enjoying this off season at the Superbank more than most.

After enduring a tumultuous 2015 that included a shark attack at J-Bay, the death of his brother, Peter, and the end of his eight-year marriage, Fanning stepped away from pro surfing in 2016. "Enjoy today (and everyday!) with friends and family lapping up everything this beautiful country has to offer. Take a minute to remember how lucky we are to live in this amazing country and remember the traditional landowners. Enjoy!," he added on Instagram, clearly flabbergasted by the award.

Mick Fanning, 2016 Quiksilver Pro
Mick Fanning backs up a big score with an 8.37 and makes the run back up to the point in Round One.

Although Fanning has yet to fully commit to the 2017 WSL Tour, according to WSL Tour Commissioner Kieren Perrow, he has confirmed his decision to compete at the season kickoff event, the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. The contest runs at his home break, Snapper Rocks. Fanning is a two-time winner of the Quik Pro and a logical favorite at a venue perfectly suited to his high-tempo, down-the-line attack.

From everyone at the WSL: Good on ya, Mick! You're a legend.

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.