Mick Fanning recently announced that this month's Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach will be the last event of his WSL Championship Tour career. But before he steps away from the competitive fold, the Australian hero is setting off some fireworks up the coast at Snapper Rocks.
Sunday during Round 1 of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Fanning arrived to masses of adoring fans, who packed the sidewalks to watch him surf. They even stayed through the rain squall that passed overhead, opening umbrellas and cheering ever louder with each wave he rode. The waves had backed off a bit, but it didn't matter to the local fans; they loved Fanning with collective might.
And Fanning, the consummate gentleman, loved them back. Indeed, as he attacked Snapper's long, righthand point, it was hard to believe that he was truly ready to throw in the towel. Despite the lack of consistent waves, he squeezed the life out of the few that came through, to the utter delight of the assembled spectators.
"The crowd was incredible," Fanning said. "In years gone past, I might have tried to block it out, but sitting and surfing out there I really tried to soak it in. I just want to thank everyone for coming down. It would be awesome to win here, but I'm not aiming to win the event for myself. I want to go out and put on a show and perform as a way to thank my family, friends and fans for all the support for all these years."
Adding to Fanning's field of devotees here is the fact that he grew up in Coolangatta, home of Snapper Rocks. As one of the so-called Cooly Kids, along with fellow CT surfers Joel Parkinson and Dean "Dingo" Morrison, here on home turf, he has a kind of rock-star prestige. While Morrison left the Tour years ago and Parkinson has no plans to leave, Fanning's imminent departure -- after 17 years and three World Titles -- further erodes the presence of pros who collectively represent an era. So it was hardly surprising that that long history here, combined with his retirement news, have lifted him to legend-status.
While Fanning was the man of the hour -- or perhaps the year -- his win highlighted the absence of another notable Tour veteran, namely Kelly Slater. The 11x Champ was slated to compete against Fanning in Round 1, but posted on Instagram that he's instead aiming to arrive by Round 2 (which, because Round 1 is a non-elimination round, is permitted in the WSL rulebook).
That left Brazilian rookie Jesse Mendes to face Fanning -- and his fandom -- alone in the inconsistent lineup. While Fanning's win wasn't a total rout, Mendes couldn't quite get past his elder opponent. No slouch in any conditions, he found two mid-range scores during the 30-minute heat, but came up just 1.80 points short. Mendes will face French surfer Joan Duru next in Round 2, Heat 12 when the contest gets going again.
Slater, if he arrives in time, will face CT returnee Keanu Asing. And Fanning, for his part, will get to sit back and relax until Round Three -- not bad practice for retirement.
Watch Round 2 of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast live on the WSL and Facebook when competition resumes. The next call is Monday, March 12 at 6:30 a.m. local time.