If not the most entertaining heat it was certainly the most anticipated match up of round three­ – Kelly Slater vs Mick Fanning. Two ageing lions of surfing pitted against one another in rippable, overhead Winki Pop conditions. They had battled for titles and dueled in finals, but on a blue-sky Easter Sunday the real prize was pride.  

Not surprisingly both surfers begun the heat a little over-amped. (A sentiment reiterated by Mick in his post heat interview.) They made mistakes, selected poor waves and bogged rails.

A perfect contest of two icons at their best it was not be. The first score of consequence didn’t come til’ well past the ten minute mark and that was a 6.83 that Kelly fell on. It would ultimately prove to be a crucial mistake.

When Mick toppled on the next set before even making a turn, it looked like he’d missed a priceless window of opportunity. “His (Mick’s) board looked like it was wobbling all over the place,” commented Rob Wright, who’d just watched his son, Owen, whip Bede Durbidge with a pair of 8.77’s in similar conditions. Earlier against Ethan Ewing, in the match-up Jack Freestone dubbed ‘little Mick vs big Mick’, Fanning had that look of invincibility back. In the cleaner, steeper morning conditions he didn’t catch a single rail and probably had the scores to win the heat twice over. Against Kelly the pressure showed and in the soupier, high tide walls he looked more vulnerable.

Fortunately for Mick, after his horror fall, another set rolled through while he still had priority and he ground out a dogged seven to take control of the heat.

After that Kelly never really found his way back. There were failed air attempts and unfinished waves. For each surfer it became a battle to unlock the style-cramping tension the rivalry had created.

Mick found a 6.5 and left the greatest surfer of all time chasing a 6.68 with time on the clock­ – a score you would expect Kelly to reel in on most days. There were no last minute miracle waves for Kelly on this occasion and he couldn’t even manufacture a mid-range score.  

For aficionados it was perhaps a fascinating chess match, but for most fans it was an anti-climax. They would have much rather seen the two rivals pushing one another to performance levels beyond what each considered possible – a reminder that Mick and Kelly can still bring out the best in one another.

Instead Mick Fanning was happy to win dirty.  What he had to say about the encounter after the heat was arguably more interesting than watching it.          

You blitzed your first heat against Ethan Ewing and then got word that you would be surfing against Kelly later in the day. What was your reaction?

In the first instance I was stoked. I want to surf against the best guys and he’s obviously The Goat and I was psyched… You go out into those heats with no pressure ­– You either beat him or you lose to the best. You just leave it all on the line.

Is there almost a bit of a strange allegiance between you and Kelly and Joel, being the more experienced competitors who are trying to keep the younger guys at bay?

“You can say old­–ha ha ha… I think we all know that we’re coming to the end so we want to leave it all out there. We don’t want to be siting there thinking ‘Oh we shoulda done this or we shoulda done that’… Even though there’s people talking about world titles and stuff like that I think the three of us are probably just trying to push each other to try and hopefully ruin some dreams.

That was what you might call a dirty win?

Yeah, that was a grind for sure. You’ve gotta go through those. You can’t go through every event with 18-point heats­ – unless you’re John John – but it was hard out there. I’m sure if it was more groomed out there we would have put more together.

Can you draw more confidence from those hard wins sometimes?

Definitely, for me 2013 (the last year Mick won the world title) was all a grind; I had a pretty low average heat score throughout the year. Yeah I grinded out the whole year but it was still good to walk away with a win.