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The ASP President weighs in on Mick Fanning’s World Title

As the tributes stream in from around the world, I would like to extend hearty congratulations to Mick Fanning for clinching the 2007 Foster's ASP World Title.

A fantastic achievement, Mick is a most deserving World Champion, and with defending 8 times World Champ Kelly Slater and former World #2 Taj Burrow on his trail, Mick had to put it away in Brazil to seal the deal. Winning the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro may have been icing on the cake but it also underlined his title triumph in indelible ink, he has now cemented his World #1 ranking in record books and joined an elite club.

This year marks the 32nd time a World Champion has been crowned, however with Kelly Slater, Mark Richards, Tom Curren and Andy Irons taking 18 World Titles between them the club Mick joins is definitely exclusive. This achievement also marks the first time a rising Australian talent has nailed the title for almost 20 years. The last champ from Down Under, Mark Occhilupo, won the 99 title as the crowning achievement of a fairytale comeback. Before that, Damien Hardman took out his second title in 91 but it was actually way back in 88 that Barton Lynch reached the apex of the sport as the final part of his ascendancy.

Apart from Occy's triumphant return the Aussie World Title factory dried up after Damien Hardman, although this trend also coincided with the arrival of this young surfer from Cocoa Beach, who kept many an Aussie at bay during the {{{90}}}'s and who, on his return from a 3 year hiatus, joined a rising Hawaiian talent to continue the shut-out. Between them Kelly and Andy won 11 World Titles, and apart from Occy's title in 99, since 92 the remaining titles went to Derek Ho, Sunny Garcia and {{{CJ}}} Hobgood.

So although Australian surfers consistently made up the majority of numbers in the Top 10 and Top 16, the #1 eluded them for the better part of two decades. So it's been a long time between drinks for the battlers from Down Under, but I'm sure there will be a big week of celebrations when Mick Fanning touches down in Coolangatta this weekend. It's way back in ancient history now but the 70's saw Coolangatta as a powerhouse of surfing, with Michael Peterson, Peter Townend and yours truly the original Cooly Kids, so it will be pretty special for the town to once again be the toast of the coast as the World Title returns after 29 years.

It was pretty cool that Mick got to share the moment with fellow Cooly Kid Joel Parkinson, just the two of them, plus that dolphin, out in the line-up awaiting battle as the announcement was made that it was over. Mick and Joel and Deano Morrison lived out of each others pocket, and fridge, for all their teenage years. They dreamed of being World Champion, now one of them has actually done it, and done it well. Mick and Joel in particular had a great rivalry, their junior days culminating in this awesome final of the Billabong ASP World Junior Championships on Phillip Island, Joel needing 10's to win and doing just that to clinch back to back World Junior crowns.

I remember the talk around town at that time. Mick was in the Kirra Club and had his supporters, Joel surfing for Snapper. The boys would be out carving behind the rock at Snapper and the “experts” would be gathered on the boardwalk. “I reckon Mick will be first to win the title, look at him, like white lightning across the waves.” “Nah mate, Joel is just toying with them, he makes it all look so easy, once he gets to the WCT he'll put the foot down and it will be daylight to second.” And so the debate would go on, from the boardwalk to the car park to the Surf Club, the conversation becoming more animated as the long summer arvo wore on.

It was never a case of “if” but “when”. Over the years they have both come close, a few $2's and #3's behind their names over the years. Only now does Mick realise how bloody hard it is to win this thing. World Titles are not a birthright; they are earned with blood, sweat, tears and toil. Nobody knows this better then Mick Fanning. Not only did he have to come out of the junior shadow of firstly Joel and Dean, then in the pro's Kelly and Andy, but he also faced major adversity, losing his best mate, brother Sean, and then having a career threatening injury. There was so much to overcome, so high a mountain to climb, and last year he started climbing straight up the steepest part of the face.

In a year where the celebrated World Champion and undisputed #1, Kelly Slater, was setting a world record pace enroute to title #8, Mick laid the foundations for an assault on #1. He won J/Bay, backed up with a dominating victory in Brazil and even though he did not improve on his #3 ranking from the previous year, there was a twinkle in the eye and a spring in the step as Mick Fanning entered the fray in 07 at the Quiksilver Pro, Snapper Rocks. Mick had the head on, his focus was narrow, heat management impeccable, his repertoire flawless, the killer instinct honed to a fine degree of applied science.

There would be no early round slip-ups in 2007. But there were other measurable improvements. All components of his game had come together. Three or four years ago Mick struggled a bit with the media. You could tell he just wasn't that comfortable, he would say whatever just so he could get out of there. Just facing the media was a distraction, but he then began working on that compartment. Nowadays he is very comfortable, a combination of the practise one gets from winning a lot and making acceptance speeches plus some honing of the skills. Somewhere along the path the penny dropped, Mick got it with the media, they were part and parcel of the whole circus and if that part of his act needed attention then it was all part of the job.

So it has been an apprenticeship for Mick Fanning. He has always shown the potential, but along the way he realized that part of the trade is to polish upon elements that he wasn't naturally comfortable with. He then turned weaknesses into strengths. In the early days I felt Mick was struggling a bit on the road. He didn't seem like he enjoyed the travel, he missed home a lot; something not uncommon in guys who live in places where the surf pumps and the lifestyle is fun. And he slowly overcame this, firstly through necessity, then actually embracing the opportunity to surf, and win, diverse surfing venues.

Another key element in Mick's progress was his ability to turn around his fortunes on the left-hand reefs. Even after winning starts in the Aussie leg Mick's challenge would fall away at Teahupoo and Cloudbreak. He had done well at Pipe, but usually when it was Backdoor. These were the venues that Andy and Kelly would burn off their opposition; they were natural strengths in their armour and were points of separation from the field. This year Mick went to Teahupoo early, put in the hours in the awesome pre-event swells, and it paid huge dividends.

Suddenly Teahupoo was his friend, he surfed it like he belonged in that club, and his runner-up at Chopes, backed up admirably with another podium finish on that tricky, gnarly left reef in Chile, allowed Mick to soar into the stratosphere. He had definitely arrived; it was quite an ominous portent of things to come. If he could turn around his fortunes on the reefs, what was he going to do at his pet events? As it turned out, the only glitch was that boilover by the precocious young door buster Dane Reynolds at Trestles. Mick didn't surf bad, he did not mismanage the heat, he just got out surfed on the day.

I remember sitting with 4 times World Champion, the great Mark Richards, at the launch of the event directly after the Boost Mobile Pro, Hossegor's Quiksilver Pro France. MR was studying Mick Fanning. Really studying him, assessing whether Kelly had found a chink in the armour. Kelly Slater had just ripped back into major contention, reeling in runaway leader Mick Fanning after a sensational Boost victory and slotting himself in a couple hundred points back. In his own words Kelly was “drafting” Mick, riding in his slipstream, and Mark Richards was studying Mick Fanning for any signs of cracks appearing.

Well, Mick passed that test by winning the event and by the Billabong Pro Mundaka, just one event later, we were talking magic numbers. It was an amazing contrast, at Trestles all results fell Kelly's way, in France Mick struck gold at the casino, every possible combination went his way and Kelly Taj, Andy and Joel went from drafting to being lapped.

And of course the rest is history. It would be remiss of me not to also pay tribute to Taj and Kelly. Taj has had a great year, winning twice, contending most events. He has come close before and one has to feel for him, he gave his all and unfortunately hit Mick Fanning on the biggest roll in history. Kelly is a true champion; he offered a beautiful vignette to the media that reeked of class. He said that while there of course was hope in the math, he wanted to be in Brazil because Mick could clinch and he wanted to be part of it. What an insight into the guy, with 8 wins, one second and for sure a Top 3 finish in 07, Kelly still has a mortgage on that rarefied air at the top.

But 2007 belongs to Mighty Mick. It'll be a big week in the Gatta, it's no secret that Aussies love a winner and boy, do they know how to party!

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