They say lightening doesn’t strike twice, but today at Pipe, Mick Fanning, aka white lightening, thunderbolted his way to a third world title. At the start of the day he only needed four waves, by the end, in fact, he only needed two. In both heats, with less than two minutes to go, he needed a nine point rides to take the world title away from Kelly Slater. Both times he snaveled solid 10 foot lefts, banked around the corner and was pitted off his brain.
“It was the best clutch performance I have seen in surfing,” said Taylor Knox. “And he had to, cause that guy, he can do that.” As he finished the sentence Taylor pointed to the Pipe line-up, just as Kelly Slater was spat from Backdoor with a powerhose of spray. Mick had taken Kelly out of the equation, and at 10 foot absolutely perfect Pipe that is what he had to do. Kelly went onto win his 7th Pipe Masters, defeating John John Florence in the final, but even that incredible feat, was too little, too late. “It still been an amazing day, one of the best of my life,” said Kelly. “These are the days at Pipe we dream about. Since I was a little kid, this is what dreams are made of.”
Early in the day it could have all been so very different. “It’s a new board that he has never ridden,” said Fanning’s shaper Darren Handley as Mick paddled out for his first heat. “And it’s a quad. Before he left Australia he was like, “I’m not riding quads, no way.’ But with size and the need for speed, he’s gone for the quad. With three fins I was nervous, with a quad, I’m four times as nervous.”
With a minute to go in the first heat of the day, he was even more nervous. CJ Hobgood had locked in a few scores, Mick had been flogged on a series of closeouts, a 12 foot swell was eliminating opportunities. Until Mick picked off a massive wide set, drew a 25 yard bottom turn on those four fins, pulled in and was spat out arms raised. In the Fanning tent, the emotional relief was incredible. His mother, and plenty of grown men besides, were crying and hugging and cheering. It was a key moment in surfing, and one that couldn’t possibly be repeated. Until it was. It was the same deal, in his next heat with Yadin Nicol, except he needed a higher score and had less time. This time he exited a drainer on the hooter, the judges deliberated for around four minutes, dropping the score and the world title to a huge cheers to the packed Pipe crowd.
“My nerves are shot,” said his wife Karissa. “There were shredded the first time, but that one was crazy. I am just so proud of him. He really deserves this.”
After that performance, no one could argue with her. He had set up this win with a year of incredible consistency and personal contentment. “I’ve had the best year of my life, and that was before those two waves and this title. I can’t even describe my satisfaction right now. It will sink in, now though, I’m just soaking it up.”
Of course Mick’s win wasn’t the only story, the Pipe Masters was being held in the best waves for two decades, and the four semi finalists were Mick, John John, Parko and Kelly, the four best surfers in the world. John John was borderline ridiculous, stomping new fangled backhand fin whirls (“that’s the best turn I’ve seen at Pipe,” said an incredulous Bede Durbidge) amongst the obligatory perfect Pipe Pits, won a second Triple Crown but couldn’t take Kelly in the final, after both surfers had peaked in the semis. It was Kelly’s 13th final and on the podium he confirmed he would be back on tour next year. Surfing needs him as much, if not more, than ever.
Three winners then, but Mick Fanning the biggest of all. It was a day of intense drama, a day where Pipeline and professional surfing combined to provide a finale that will be talked out for a long time. It may be in fact be decades before we see lightening striking twice like this.