A more classic Pipe approach earns Fanning surfing's highest prize
In this instance, two waves really mattered, and they deserve to both be unpacked, but ultimately it was one wave that won him the world title, his third and final crown.
In 2013 the world title came down to Pipe, and it ended up being that exciting finale we all love and hope for to end off the world tour on any particular year. That year it looked like Mick’s day, but Kelly Slater was there to haunt him, to make the last day that stressful, nail-biting experience that it was.
It was chunky Pipe, with big sets, wide sets, and some absolute bombs coming through. Several factors were at play, including local knowledge and experience, the art of staying calm, as well as a significant luck factor. If you were on the wrong side of luck in a heat, you had no chance whatsoever.
Fanning came up against CJ Hobgood in the fifth round, and the two paddled out for the first heat of the day on finals day. CJ was no slouch when it came to Pipe, and his forte had always been big throaty and tubing lefts. For this heat they were both scratching around, getting mid-range scores, missing all the bombs as they ebbed and swirled around the Pipe reef.
As the clock ticked down to the sub-two-minute mark, Fanning was sitting with a 2.5 heat total, and all seemed lost. Suddenly a set appeared, and Mick had a last gasp. It was a roll-in, and he shrugged off the whitewater on his back and casually faded and slowed down at the bottom of the wave, waiting for it to jack up. With perfect timing, Fanning rode the barrel of the heat and exited in a pile of spit with arms raised for a 9.5 score and the heat win.
That wave came with about 90 seconds left in the heat, and Fanning displayed his best big match temperament during one of the most crucial moments of his competitive career. The screams on the beach were deafening as he emerged from the tube, and when the results were announced.
The drama was far from over, however, and the real ‘wave that mattered’ was yet to come. Up against Yadin Nicol in the quarters, Fanning looked a little jumpy, as you would be in a world title heat. If Yadin won the heat he would confirm a slot on the CT for the following year. It was his last chance to remain on the elite tour. If Fanning won the heat, he would claim his third world title. If he lost the heat, he would leave the door wide-open for slater to win his 12th world title, something that he really, really wanted to do. Still does.
Yadin was hungry and was chasing everything as if his life depended on it. He needed to qualify to keep his career going. At that stage, he was not the kind of surfer to go back onto the QS and grind it out for another year. To prove his desire, he banked a 7.57 and a 9.33, and it seemed his qualification looked confirmed, as the time in the heat ran out.
Unbelievably, another perfect set wave appeared before Mick in the nick of time. It was an absolute gem, but he needed a 9.57 to win it. A near-perfect score would need some wizardry, some dark magic from the surfer who might have been the fastest in the world, but most definitely was not a Pipe specialist nor stand-out.
Mick got in early and faded on take-off. He faded his bottom turn and calmly waited and waited before the wave pitched and he pulled in, grabbing his rail. Initially, the violent foamball did everything it could to dislodge him. Still, he hung in there as tenaciously, as a man fighting for a title would do, and as he hit clean water, the wave barreled harder and faster. He threaded the tube for another clean exit and the roars of the crowd.
It was a ridiculous barrel in the context of the day’s surfing, but was it enough?
Fanning was awarded a 9.70 and his third world title from that one wave. It was miraculous, it was beyond clutch, and that was that—third title to a worthy champion.
The closing notes to the contest and the world title ran something like this.
Kelly won the Pipe Masters, John John won the Triple Crown, and the controversy over Mick’s final wave score thundered through the Internet for a few days. Trolls had the times of their lives, lashing out at the judges, lashing out at the WSL and deriding Mick himself, as if he was responsible for the scoring.
Not that Mick gave an actual f&%k. He was, after all, the new world champion, and he had a bonus cheque to cash.