By Nick Carroll
Here's a weird and oblique truth about the looming Mick Fanning/Joel Parkinson world championship showdown: It won't happen. At least, not literally. Mick and Joel won't face each other at the Billabong Pipeline Masters unless they both make the final, and if they get that far, the result will be academic as far as world title glory is concerned. Getting that far will mean Mick is the man.
Instead, Fanning faces the classic test of the front-runner: how to hold momentum when it'd be incredibly easy to let down your guard.
Sometime in the next few days, as Pipe opens its jaws for contenders and pretenders alike, we'll find out if he's passed that test. Meantime, Mick spent most of yesterday lolling in a folding chair on the beach at Backdoor, watching the first round craziness and generally keeping it cool. "I'm a tourist today," he grinned.
But the Mr Cool act hides some extraordinary shit. This is a surfer who in mid-year was trailing his hectic buddy by literally thousands of points, so far off he was on nobody's radar. What's even weirder: in July, Mick joined the ASP Board, just in time for months of drama surrounding the Champions Tour and a negotiation worthy of Donald Trump. Joining the ASP Board is regarded as Doom for a pro surfer's title chances; instead, it coincided with the run that sees him holding a near-impregnable lead. What the HELL?? SURFING tormented him with a few questions on the subject.
SURFING: You've never been an ASP Board member before – were you ever concerned that it was gonna be a distraction from actually surfing?
Yeah. Briefly. There's meetings going on now in Hawaii that I've had to pull myself out of just because it does take a lot of time and energy out of you. But through the year, answering emails and taking phone calls and such, I think it's more about managing your time and dealing with how to represent the guys.
I'm sure it's just coincidence, but while all that was going on … that's when your year just lit up.
(laughs) I was excited!
I kept thinking shit, he must be thinking about a lot of stuff right now.
Yeah…I guess it's almost a good distraction to get away from surfing as well. My wife says I can't multi-task, she's probably right, but … I was really enjoying learning about all of that side of things, instead of just showing up, going in a contest, going to a meeting, yes, no, yes, no – I actually really enjoyed researching and all that, it was good.
At what point did you realise you were actually going to go into battle with Parko?
I think it came down to after the event in France. That's the one where I realised I was back in the race, and Joel had just had his second 17th. I was still behind, but I still felt I had more results in me. I still felt really fresh and in a good space to keep moving forward. I knew that was the direction I was heading.
Phil McNamara (Mick's coach) told me a few things you'd changed this year – changed your warmup time for contests, changed your board length, a couple of things about your surfing. Can you pinpoint the things you've changed that made a difference this year?
I think the whole change to my year came at Huntington. I just had a different approach, a different mindset going into heats. I guess you've seen me in the past, where I'd sit there for an hour and a half before my heat, just sitting there and staring, staring, staring. Then do this half hour warmup. It's definitely hard, just to stay up that high for that long, and I was finding that as I kept doing it, I'd start drifting off to other places in my head. Now it's just do the warmup in the morning then just do it quick, another warmup, bang! Just before the heat. So that was a big thing.
Plus I think I've been a traditionalist when it comes to boards in heats, I don't go short, I stay stock standard. And I had a board at Huntington that I was forced to ride, because my boards hadn't made it from J-Bay. It was a 5'11", and I never ride a 5'11", and it had FCS and I'd never had FCS. And yeah, that was it, it was working. That was actually the board I ended up winning the three events on. Huntington was where I perfected that heat preparation, short and sharp, and where I got the confidence in myself to ride a different sort of equipment. And I got some heat time – up till then I hadn't had that much heat time this year. So it was a really big confidence booster.
Having not been at Huntington for so long, I got so excited from the vibe. Just being really excited about how big surfing had gotten, and being in a position to appreciate that. When I was younger, I couldn't appreciate that. But I remember being in the final with Brett Simpson and looking in and seeing all those people on the beach. It felt like a (football) final. It was amazing. That got me really excited about what else was coming up and what new directions we could take. I answered a lot of questions for myself at that event.
Coming into Hawaii, you can't avoid the numbers. You can't avoid people. How are you coping with that?
I've actually been really good. I've just been hanging around the house, hanging with Knoxy (Taylor Knox) a bit, just surfing out front when I felt like surfing, not pushing anything. I haven't been doing what I normally do over here and going to hell funhouse parties, I've just been cruising, and if I felt like doing something I have, and if not, I'm happy just sitting in my room listening to music. Yeah, I know all the numbers and all that. I like knowing that stuff, exactly where people lie. And I don't feel pressure, because Joel needs a third or better and that's before I do anything. So all the pressure's on him.
But at the same time, I've never come here NEEDING to do well at Pipeline. I have done well in the past, made a final. But now, I feel like I'm focusing on Pipe the same way I focus on all the other events on tour, and I'm excited about that.