The Ginja Ninja

Mick Campbell, the happiest runner-up in World Title history

Mick Campbell wouldn’t agree, but I think fate did the right thing by yanking a world title out from beneath his freckled feet. Remember? Pipe Masters, 98. Big surf. Showdown in the last event of the year: Campbell in first going into the contest, fellow Aussie and good mate Danny Wills in second, Kelly Slater third. Tightly bunched, all three. Campbell won his opening heat, but in the next round, against an 18-year old Bruce Irons, he posted a 1.9 total heat score (best three waves counting, mind), and was out. Wills went a round further, but also self-destructed. Slater beat Machado in the Quarters for his 6th world title win, then lost his Semi against Jake Paterson. Slater’s 38-point margin over Campbell in the final rankings remains the smallest in World Tour history. (By comparison, in 2011 Slater put a horizon-bending 12,000 points between himself and runner-up Joel Parkinson.)

My point is this: Had Campbell won in ’98, he’d belong to that category of damned-with-faint-praise world champs, like PT, Hardman, and CJ Hobgood, stamped with all those flaccid adjectives like “consistent” and “determined.” Surf cynics right now would be shit-talking his championship, or at the very least saying that a World Tour capable of putting Mick on top without an event win in 1998, rather than Slater or Occy or Sunny, was a World Tour too lame to matter.

By not winning the title, on the other hand, Campbell’s rep is golden. A hundred times smaller than it would’ve been, sure. But so perfectly suited to the man. Campbell is one of the greatest, most likable overachievers in pro surfing history. He’s the feisty little fucker with the wide grin, a smart mouth, and an even smarter right hook (used it to take out Andy Irons with a single punch in a blink-and-its-over post-heat brawl in France in 2000), who fell steadily down the ratings after his big title shot, dropped out of sight for a couple years nursing a bum back and raising a 25-pound beer gut, then returned in ’07, fit as a flea and surfing better than ever, for a three-year WCT encore.

Campbell set a high standard for how to process and own a tough runner-up finish. “You can look back and say, ‘Yeah, I should of done this, I should have done that,” he told Surfing in 2006, skipping past all the bitter-pill-swallowers like Gary Elkerton. “But I did the best I could. The fact that Kelly came from behind to beat me doesn’t take away any of the glory of getting second. I’m still proud as punch.”

Just posted Mick Campbell’s overdue and much-deserved EOS page.