3X WSL Champion Mick Fanning, has called 2016 a ‘personal year’ in which he will surf in select events. He will, however, return to the J-Bay Open at South Africa’s Jeffreys Bay, the scene of his 2015 shark attack.
The Australian sporting icon endured an intense 2015 in which he was thrust into the international spotlight following an on-air battle with a Great White Shark during July’s J-Bay Open. Despite the incident, Fanning rallied to battle for the WSL Title throughout the back half of the season, pushing the race to the final event of the year. Suffering the tragic and unexpected loss of older brother Peter during the event window, Fanning’s performance at Pipeline was emotionally charged, but ultimately short of the world surfing crown.
“Last year was definitely intense – what happened at J-Bay, being in a title race and the unfortunate passing of my brother,” Fanning said. “There was so much build up with everything happening. I got to a point at the end of the year where I felt empty. I didn’t feel like I had much to give back.”
“This year, I’m going to take some time off and have a bit of a personal year,” Fanning continued. “Just to regroup and re-stoke the fire. At this stage, I’m going to compete at Snapper and I’m going to compete at Bells and then I’m going to take some time off from there. They (Snapper and Bells) are two events that I love and I’d go crazy if I were sitting at home and couldn’t go surf Snapper. Bells is like a second home as well. From then on, I feel like I have to take some time away from the tour to get out of that sort of zone to see where my head is at.”
The decision to surf in select events in 2016 came after lengthy discussion with family, friends, sponsors and the WSL.
“When I first came to this decision, I rang up Kieren (Perrow) and Paul Speaker and gave them an idea of what I was thinking and seeing if it was okay with them,” Fanning said. “Between those two and the whole WSL being supportive, it’s been really incredible. Even last year, with all the things happening, they were the first people that would reach out to support and make sure everything was okay. I’m really thankful that they’re giving me this opportunity to be selective with events and see where I’m at.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of accomplished people across a variety of mediums and Mick Fanning is certainly one of the most inspiring,” Paul Speaker, WSL CEO, said. “His class and character, even in the face of multiple scenarios that would undo most people, are tremendous. He is a truly special person and we’re here to support him in whatever way we can.”
The shark incident at Jeffreys Bay in July became a top international news story, vaulting Fanning into a level of public recognition never before seen in the sport. While his 2016 season remains in flux, Fanning has indicated plans to return to Jeffreys Bay this year.
“I want to go back to J-Bay,” Fanning said. “I feel like there’s something there that I want to go and face. I want to make sure that I scratch that off the list. I think the main thing will be that first surf. I probably won’t be getting up at dark and getting out there before the sun gets up anymore. I think it’s more about jumping in and surfing once or twice and then I’ll be fine. It’s the same thing as when I came back and surfed Snapper for the first time. You’re a little bit wary and it’s in the back of your mind, but you get to a point where you start to feel comfortable again. If I go and do that event, there are going to be a lot of eyes on me. A lot of people will be seeing what reaction I’ll have. I don’t think I’ll be paddling out early for heats, but I think after a surf or two, I’ll feel fine.”
A 15-year veteran of the elite WSL Championship Tour, Fanning has amassed an impressive 21 event wins and three world titles.
“Mick Fanning is one of the most committed and inspiring figures our sport has been fortunate enough to have,” Kieren Perrow, WSL Commissioner, said. “He’s been up front and open about his feelings following the 2015 season and the Commissioner’s Office wholeheartedly supports him taking time for himself this year. We look forward to seeing him at the opening event on the Gold Coast and at select events throughout the year.”
The 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour will commence with the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro Gold Coast from March 10 – 21, 2016.
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Image: WSL / Cestari