For the professional athlete, no fear looms larger than that of a major injury. It's the biggest threat to career, happiness, life. Far too often, would-be greats are reduced to shells of themselves in mere seconds by pain, and they, along with everyone else, are suddenly left to ponder "What if?"
Which is why the surfing world collectively winced last year when word slowly trickled over the date-line about the severity of an injury Mick Fanning suffered. Fanning, widely considered the fastest surfer on tour, was hurt while surfing in Indonesia. One mistimed floater yanked his entire hamstring muscle clean off the bone. A gruesome ball of tissue was left clumped up in his thigh, producing a huge, dark, black-and-blue bruise. After suffering through a world of hurt, three plane rides and several mega-doses of Valium, he finally made it back home to undergo surgery. Dr. David Wood soon informed him his 2004 season was over, a serious blow to someone considered a World Title contender
The off-season proved Mick's biggest test. But as he tells us here, just as injuries can break men, they can also make them. Sometimes, when put into perspective, the adversity strengthens their resolve, sharpens their focus, and supplies much-needed opportunity for reflection and growth. This seems to have been the case for Fanning, as he returned to competition and stunned everyone by taking the debut event of the 2005 WCT season, The Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. A few weeks later, he followed that up with another win at a 4-Star WQS event in Newcastle, an event hosted by four-time World Champion Mark Richards.
This interview began before his recent victories, but was followed up directly afterward.
SURFER: How did it feel stepping straight back into the winner's circle after such a heavy injury?
MICK FANNING: Good [Laughs]. I was surprised that I could come back that quickly. When I was talking to you before the event, I was saying I was going to be 100%, but I didn't know for sure.
SURFER: And how was the leg?
MICK FANNING: It was fine. That whole event I felt really, really good. I've changed my diet and my energy levels were pretty much ridiculous thanks to that. I could have surfed another two heats. [Mick and runner-up Chris Ward surfed four times on the final day.]
SURFER: You had great support on the beach, being your hometown and all. That must have added to the whole moment.
MICK FANNING: Ah yeah. Everyone seems so stoked. It was really cool. And Hog [Nathan Hedge] and Parko [Joel Parkinson] wading into the water and lifting me up—that was massive. I'll never forget it.
SURFER: How are you feeling about the year ahead after all this?
MICK FANNING: I'm feeling really good. I was thinking about having a holiday and a break from training, but my trainer rang me up and said, "Nah, you're not finished yet." So that's good, I'm glad she said that.
SURFER: You said you've cleaned up your diet. How strict is it?
MICK FANNING: It's just having live food. Everything's got to come from the ground or an animal. No macca's [McDonald's]. Junk food's out. And just knowing what to eat and when.
SURFER: It already looks to be an exciting year after the first couple of events. Wardo seems to have shaken things up a bit.
MICK FANNING: Ah yeah, I've been watching Wardo surf and he seems to have a few people rattled. Like, he'll go out and do a massive air first wave and they think they've got to do airs to beat him. Even guys you wouldn't expect, like Kelly, they try to beat him at his own game. It's good to watch.
SURFER: What about the surgery itself? Tell us about the actual procedure.
MICK FANNING: What they do with it is they slice the back of your arse open and peel it back. Then they drill into your arse bone and put, like, a grappling hook in there. It's so strong the doctor said he was lifting me off the table just with the hook. And then they sew the ligament onto the grappling hook. So for the first six, eight weeks, that's why you can't do anything—it's just the stitches holding it together. And you've just got to wait for the scar tissue to grow over the grappling hook.
SURFER: So that all stays in there?
MICK FANNING: Yeah, it's all in there for good now, so I got a bit of metal in me.
SURFER: Do you set off the metal detectors at the airport?
MICK FANNING: Nah, surprisingly, no. Just as well. They'd want to search my arse. Nah, it's all good. The attachment, when it's fully healed, will be stronger than my other leg.
SURFER: You told me a while back you believe this whole accident happened for a reason. Do you still believe that?
MICK FANNING: Yes. I do. I don't think I'd been home for more than a month in five years. I'd have 10 days or maximum three weeks. Everything just got to be so stressful. You get all these people in your ear going, "If you don't do it this year…" or, "You've got to be World Champ this year…" Even just little random things like, "Oh, I've got my money on you this year." I really lost the passion for my surfing last year. I was just so over the Gold Coast. I think I got drunk for like a week straight. And then I just packed up my stuff and went, "I'm out of here…" I went with [photographer] Johnny Frank and [videographer] Shagga down the South Coast, caught up with Lowey and got to see my Dad. It was really cool. We'd just surf all day. There was no pressure, no crowds, just rock up and go surfing. I really enjoyed my surfing again because of that. Then I'd see my Dad in the afternoons and have a beer with him…I'd just have one and I'd be so buggered from surfing, I'd just be falling asleep. And then wake up at five in the morning and go check the surf again and go surfing all day. It really brought my passion back for surfing. It was pretty cool.