Last June, I sat poolside at the Komune resort at Keramas and interviewed Mick Fanning for this column. Ditzy Australian techno jumped through loudspeakers while a small crowd of half-naked people sipped beers at a lavishly early hour. It was the halfway point on the 2013 WCT and Mick was in contention for his third world title. We chatted about focus, about fun and, of course, about the world title — which he went on to win. Fast-forward a year and I'm sitting in the Hurley house at J-Bay, waiting to interview title hopeful Michel Bourez. It's once again the halfway point on the WCT, but it's colder here. There is no techno. The room is strangely quiet, just a few bystanders thumbing through Instagram while Michel is engaged in a game of backgammon. He looks calm. Focused. Confident. He's having fun. It's a demeanor that mirrors his surfing. A few more rolls of the dice and the game ends. "You smoked me," his opponent says, offering a handshake. With a little bit of luck and a whole lot of power surfing, this won't be Michel's last congratulatory handshake of the year. —Brendan Buckley
Michel: There's a huge difference in my surfing this year. I've been working with a new coach, training hard and doing a lot of jiujitsu, which is really helpful. I love how it puts you in bad situations and makes you figure a way out of them. It forces you to stay calm. I don't feel like I've changed much in terms of my surfing technique. It's mostly been a matter of finding new mental confidence.
I didn't expect much at the beginning of the year. I just told myself that I was going to try something different and come to every event more relaxed — no pressure. I give it 100 percent in every heat. I want to know that when I lose, it's because the other guy is surfing better than me. That's it.
I like when the surf is really consistent — when I have potential to fall and still go back out and get another chance to try something bigger. I like when it's more of a mission — when it's stormy, windy and when there's a lot of water moving. I feel like that's when I'm the most stable. When everything moves around me, I see clearer; I understand the ocean better. I feel like I have a better chance than a lot of people in that environment.
Anytime it's slow, I'm at a disadvantage. I hate knowing I only have one or two chances to make a heat. But it's part of the game. That's the reason I lost at Bells. I gave a wave to Glenn [Hall]. A couple mistakes like that have cost me heats this year.
I really look up to my brothers. I have one younger, one older. There are so many things in life that we've been through together. My little brother, Kevin, charges Chopes, too, and that pushes me a lot. Everything he does makes me want to go bigger.
I also look up to Mick Fanning. Everything about him. He brought surfing to where it is now. All the kids are training and trying to surf their hardest and push their limits because of Mick. He's maximizing his career. He's physically ready for anything and that's inspiring.
I'm always thinking about the world title. But I'd rather focus on what I'm doing now to make sure that in the future I'm still contending. We all make mistakes, and they don't really matter at the end of the year as long as you don't allow them to. If you look at Kelly last year, he won two events and made the final of another. Mick made four finals and got second in all but one. I'm learning that you have to move on after each event, win or lose. I already have two bad results, so right now my goal is to still be in the race after the Europe leg so I can at least give myself a chance to win the title at Pipeline.