Mick Fanning's final Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast came to a bittersweet close Wednesday at Snapper Rocks, at the hands of Brazilian rookie Tomas Hermes and fellow Aussie Owen Wright, who defeated him in Round 4. Fanning announced recently that he'll be retiring after the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach later this month, which added emotional heft to every heat.
So whatever levity he may have brought to proceedings prior to his loss today, the significance of his run here at Snapper was ever-present. And the way Fanning made his exit spoke volumes: On his way out of the water, he casually gave his board to a young fan who was wearing a jersey like his. From there, he left the contest site almost immediately, bypassing press and post-heat interviews.
Fanning grew up in this area, becoming known as one of the so-called "Cooly Kids" (after the town of Coolangatta), along with fellow Championship Tour (CT) surfer Joel Parkinson (who was also defeated Wednesday, at the hands of a rookie) and former CT'er Dean "Dingo" Morrison. During his 17-year career on Tour, Fanning won three World Titles, among numerous achievements, and made headlines worldwide in 2015, when he encountered a shark during competition at Jeffreys Bay. On home turf, however, he's long been an icon and the local feels for him are unmistakable.
Yet while his departure from the Quik Pro was sudden, some have had time to prepare, with his retirement in mind. "I'm sad, but excited at the same time," said Ryan "Fletch" Fletcher, Team Manager for Rip Curl, which sponsors Fanning. "It's going to be weird not traveling with him all year on Tour, but the things that he's got planned and some of the surfing that he's going to do after Tour life is exciting, as he evolves the story of Mick."
Plus, Fanning will still have a presence on Tour, if not in the flesh, per se. "Have fun but be professional," Fletcher said, is the quintessential lesson. "The one thing with Mick is that you can always count on him being an absolute professional, in and out of the water.
"But he knows how to have fun as well, and that's really important as well. That's the biggest thing that he's instilled in the rest of my guys, for sure."
Wright, meanwhile, has his own story at this event. While he and his family are from Culburra, New South Wales -- about 600 miles south of the Gold Coast -- the lanky goofyfooter made a dramatic return to pro surfing at this event last year. He had spent the entire 2016 season sidelined after a serious head injury put his ability to surf again in doubt. Yet he swept the field, all the way to a win. Plus, he had just become a new father, and when he hugged his baby and partner, Kita Alexander, after his win there wasn't a dry eye from D'bah to Sydney.
This time around, both Wright and Fanning have new frames of mind. And before it's all over, with Finals likely Thursday, Fanning could very well make a star cameo on site. This time, he'll be here not as a competitor, but a much-adored fan.
Catch the Quik Pro Finals Thursday, March 15 local time on the WSL and Facebook. The next call is 7:00 a.m. AEST.