It was obvious from the first wave he rode on the first day of the Billabong Pro Tahiti at Teahupoo that Mick Fanning had one thing on his mind: winning. He was, as they say in sport, in the zone.
With a very narrow lead atop the ASP World Tour ratings, his ambitions were clear. He was intent on stuffing himself as far back in the ominous barrel at Teahupoo as possible, a strategy that would subsequently lead him to heat win after heat win until, in a climactic fashion, he met his lifelong Gold Coast mate Joel Parkinson in the final.
In a back-and-forth affair, Fanning would come out on top by less than half of a point, and in doing so propel himself into a commanding lead in his bid for the 2012 world title. "I made a final out here before," said Fanning afterward, "but to come away with the win is great for my confidence and I’m in a good position heading into the next half of the year."
With two world titles already under his belt (2007 and 2009) Fanning has clearly returned to champion form, after struggling with injury and equipment issues throughout 2011. The steely look in his eyes is back, his boards appear to be working like magic under his feet, and that focus that had led him to so much success in the past is clearly back.
Now with the 2012 season reaching the halfway point, he’s out in front of the tour ratings by a thousand points. Nevertheless, Fanning pointed out, “It’s early days still and there are a lot of guys right up there. It’s still anyone’s game at this point.”
Fanning is aware of how quickly fortune can change. His year started off on shaky ground, as he found himself aced out of the Quiksilver Pro Australia, held at his home break of Snapper Rocks. “That one hurt,” he noted of his 13th place finish.
But grit and determination have been hallmarks of Fanning’s career -- and he would come back with all the speed and fury of his nickname, “White Lightning.” At the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach he bested 11-time world champion Kelly Slater in a heated final. He then followed that up with two third place finishes at the Billabong Pro Rio and the Volcom Fiji Pro. Then came Tahiti.
Trailing throughout the 35-minute final, Fanning flipped the script at the four-minute mark.
“I knew I just had to be patient,” Fanning said. “It’s Teahupoo, you can get two 10s in two minutes, so I knew I just needed to keep my composure throughout the final. I knew I needed to focus on my own game plan."
He added, "I got that good score about mid-heat and then was able to sell Joel on one that didn’t pan out for him when he had priority. The wave after was the one and I made the most of it. It’s an incredible feeling to come back and get the win. I’m stoked.”
The next stop on the ASP World Tour will be the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles in mid September. Often described as the highest performance wave in the world, it’s a spot Fanning has spent ample time at and knows well. It suits his fast, full-rail brand of surfing perfectly, and while as he noted, “it’s still anyone’s game,” he has to be enjoying the view from on top right now.
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