This time last year, Mick Fanning was about as fond of Brazil as kicking his shin on a coffee table. That hurts - a lot. He hated the waves, didn't rate the contest and to prove his rage for Rio knew no bounds, he began to question the validity of Brazilian bikinis. So much did he detest the Rio Pro, he considered not going back this year. Oh, how things have changed...
While he still doesn't rate the waves in Rio all that highly, the two-time world champ managed to pull a third out of his pocket last week and returned home with a Pele jersey*. Now he heads into Fiji second on the world standings behind good mate Joel Parkinson. Back home at Coolangatta, we caught up with Mick in a zombie-like state as he struggled to both stay awake and fall asleep on return from the place that previously could not be named.
He opens up on the axing of J-Bay, his new approach, why Casey Stoner won't make it on the world tour, who the most dangerous surfer on the CT is and why Fiji's return to the calendar is the best thing since Fruit Loops cereal straws:
Red Bull: Mick, before we talk Brazil and the championship, let's flashback to Bells real quickly. That win was amazing!
Mick Fanning : Tell me about it! It was a relief to finally get a win after making the finals three years in a row! It all happened pretty quickly actually. It was a special event this year. It seemed like there were some good vibes down there. The MP thing was pretty sad but in the same sense, everyone was in realy good spirits. I guess when the waves are pumping and it's actually sunny in Victoria, everyone's happy...
RB: And given the waves at the Quiksilver Pro in the first event, it would have been a welcome change to get some decent waves...
MF: After the Quiky event I was pretty pissed off. But it was sort of a blessing in disguise for me I guess, because that bad result made me re-evaluate everything and actually made me change up a lot of different things and just simplify everything. So when I went into Bells, I knew I could get a good result and my boards and body were feeling great.
RB: How does one simplify things in surfing?
MF: I didn't freak out about the little things. It's about keeping my preparation really short and staying energetic and excited to surf. It's about not worrying about all the other crap going on outside of the water and just do the job and focus on actually competing. You can sit there and prepare for everything and stress and tick every little box. But sometimes the best preparation is no preparation. If you can get the boards right and all that sort of stuff before you get to an event, then I can switch on and be in the right frame of mind.
RB: Now, MotoGP rider Casey Stoner announced his retirement this week at the ripe old age of just 26, citing off-track politics and constant rule changes as a massive source of frustration. Thoughts?
MF: Yeah, that's wild! I think it's pretty sad to see him retire so young. I guess being in the spotlight sometimes and all that preparation and effort that you put into something like that, it's pretty full on. So with a new kid, maybe he just wants to go and enjoy life for a bit.
RB: Do we have those kinds of problems on tour?
MF: Look, there are all kinds of considerations and things that go into preparation for a year-long world tour - getting your boards right, making sure you're doing the right things for your sponsors, taking care of your body and getting your mind right. Even though people think we just go surfing, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that we have to do. And it can be pretty time-consuming. It's like any sport, you've got to make sacrifices if you want to do well. But it's worth it!
RB: So we're not going to see you call a shock announcement anytime soon?
MF: Nah. I think the ASP is in a pretty good place at the moment with the surfers and the events. Everyone has a really good understanding of what's going on. Obviously it's a little bit difficult with some of the key sponsors under financial difficulties, but as a whole I think it's going pretty good. That's what they tell me anway! Haha.
RB: Killing off J-Bay for Fiji has got to be a point of contention though... J-Bay is one of the most iconic stops on tour.
MF: It does get a little bit difficult when super iconic events like J-Bay get dropped. New York... to be honest, I think the swell they got last year was the best they'll ever get. So I don't think anybody is too upset about that being replaced. But J-Bay, that's really difficult to swallow. It's a really difficult one because people say 'why didn't they get rid of Brazil or why didn't they get the money from somebody else?' But these big companies need to get value out of it and sometimes that value doesn't align with what the surfers think is best for the sport. Obviously it sucks for us, but they're the ones who put in all the money. It's good to see Volcom stepping up and putting on Fiji. They've been part of surfing for a long time. It's positive for the sport to have new company's step in when the big three can't.
RB: Is Fiji a good substitute for J-Bay? This time last year there was a once-in-a-decade swell that guys like Kelly flocked to...
MF: Fiji was always a great spot on the calendar if you go back a few years. We had that great pacific leg that went from Chopes to Fiji. I think those were some of the most exciting times on tour and Fiji is always going to be a huge part of the world tour. We just had a bit of an absence with a political coup there and then the expense of it all. All the surfers and the ASP are really stoked to be back though.
RB: So heading from three beach break events to reef point contests, how does that change your preparation. From boards to style, there's a lot to consider, yeah?
MF: Yeah, it's a big change from the first three rounds. Luckily, we're all in the same boat. There's a lot more preparation going on at home than once we get there. You've got much bigger waves, so we're going to need bigger board - boards for good waves... Haha. The waves are a lot longer. In Rio, it felt like I didn't really surf because the waves were so short. And it's a matter of putting more strength and stamina into the legs for those longer rides and get the cardio up, because it's damn hot over there. So lots of Pilates and Reebok Step... Haha.
RB: OK, since you brought it up. Let's talk about your favourite wave, Rio...
MF: Haha. Rio is an event where you could have lost any heat at any time. The waves were really random and small. After last year, I was even contemplating not going to Rio because I didn't really enjoy the year before... Haha. But I put a good campaign together and really changed the tide on how I felt there.
RB: And you're second on the world standings behind Parko now. That's gotta be a shot in the arm given your start to the year in Coolangatta and your results in Rio last year?
MF: I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm at. To walk away with a third from Brazil was awesome. I would have loved the win but especially after last year, I felt I had a great event.
RB: John John Florence took out the event for his first ever tour win. How dangerous will he be now?
MF: I rate him as probably the most dangerous surfer on tour at the moment. He's got pretty much everything - the airs, the big turns and he's an amazing tube rider. He's like the new era Bruce Irons factor. It's great to see a new grom come in and win an event. And I suppose for my world title standings, it's good that he beat Joel! Haha
RB: Okay, last one and we'll let you get some sleep. You were at the helm of the Red Bull Future Camp last month, mentoring a heap of grommets. What's the future of Australian surfing look like?
MF: That was actually a heap of fun! Some of the kids were hilarious and there were some really good surfers. It was pretty cool. I didn't know how the future was looking and after that camp I'm pretty damn impressed. I'm stoked. The grooms were all-time.