After his abbreviated season in 2016, Mick Fanning returned to the Championship Tour full-time this year with every intent of going after a World Title. Given his amazing performances last year at Bells Beach and Jeffrey's Bay, nobody doubted Mick's commitment. After all, Fanning isn't one to dabble. But when Fanning opened the season with a 25th at Snapper Rocks, and a 13th place at Margaret River, something seemed amiss. It's a rare thing to see Fanning fumbling, but that's what was happening.
Fortunately, Fanning has bounced back with two fifth place finishes in a row at Bells and Rio. While he was one of three World Champs who fell to wildcard Yago Dora in Brazil, Fanning walked away with a big smile on his face, with nothing but admiration for Dora, and a fresh dose of inspiration.
World Surf League: What's different this year?
Mick Fanning: To be totally honest, the first couple events, I felt like I was really forcing it. I thought I could just come back and do the same things and it would feel completely natural again. And it just didn't. I felt like it just wasn't right. So after Margaret's, I went home and just scrapped it. Freed it up a bit.
So you're changing your approach to events?
The way that I get ready, making it a lot lighter. Really trying to have a lot more fun with it. To get the feeling that I have when I go freesurfing -- staying light. It's been feeling good. I've been paddling out in heats and I'm not too worried about results. Trying to just surf.
What about mental training, and accessing new parts of your spirit?
Visualization is a really big thing. At times, when you can't get to the break, or you can't actually surf the wave without a million people in the way, visualization is a big thing. Your body doesn't know if it's right or wrong. So that's been a big part of my program for a long time. It's one of the things that if I give myself time to do that, then I feel comfortable.
So you had a good run in Rio, but you were one of several champs who fell victim to Yago Dora. What's your sense of him so far?
I've only started hearing about him a couple of years ago, little snippets here and there. But to see him live, he's the real deal. He's a great surfer, and to take out as many World Champions as he did, that's not something to sneeze at. I think he has a bright future. He's only young, and he's going to get really good. It's exciting, I really like seeing the young guys come up and throwing a cat amongst the pigeons.