Mick Fanning was already a household name in pro surfing by 2015, but he became an absolute legend that year when he fought off a shark attack by punching the shark in the nose. Now he is ready to call it a career.
The 36-year-old Australian known as “White Lightning” says he needs a “fresh challenge” and will retire after the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event, which runs from March 28-April 8 in Australia.
“The tour has given me so much, but I need a fresh challenge,” he wrote on Instagram. “I still love the game but can’t find the motivation and dedication required to compete for world titles anymore. I will be competing at the opening event at home on the Gold Coast and then wrapping things up at the Rip Curl Pro.”
Fanning, winner of three world titles, added that he would be “keeping a close eye on things. I’m so proud of our sport and the way it continues to evolve. The performance level on the Championship Tour and the Big Wave Tour is remarkable. I can’t wait to watch it all go down as one of the sport’s biggest fans. I’m also looking forward to evolving my own surfing in new ways, visiting unfamiliar places and taking on different experiences.”
Fanning had at least two brushes with sharks, with the 2015 encounter in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, caught on live TV. Video of the incident has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube.
He admitted that he was just “waiting for the teeth to come at me” as he fought off the shark and as he and fellow competitor Julian Wilson waited to be picked up by World Surfing League officials.
“I was just sitting there. I was just about to start moving, and then I felt something grab, got stuck in my leg rope,” he said, sounding remarkably relaxed (via WSL video). “I instantly just jumped away, and then it just kept coming at my board. I was kicking and screaming.
“I just saw fins. I didn’t see the teeth. I was waiting for the teeth to come at me as I was swimming. I punched it in the back.”
Fanning explained that he was being pulled under by his leg rope and, when that broke, he “started swimming and screaming.” From the safety of a boat, he later added, “I just can’t believe it. I’m just tripping. … To walk away from that, I’m just so stoked.”
He reduced his schedule for a bit after that, admitting that the experience was an “emotional, mental trauma.” He returned to a full schedule in 2017; that year, he and another surfer were pulled from the water after another shark was sighted in the same area, known for its popularity with sharks.
“That is huge,” Fanning said when he saw footage of the shark. “Look at that thing. That thing is a beast. At least they saw this one. I am glad they got us out of the water. Those things are just submarines, however long they are, the roundness of them as well … they are big, big beasts.”
Fanning apologized for the toll his heart-stopping encounters took on family, friends and fans. “People at home, I’m sorry to put you through it,” he said in 2017. “I don’t try to put myself in danger any more. I think I’ve been in that situation a few too many times. But I feel really safe.”
Fanning’s decision means he will miss out when surfing becomes an Olympic sport in Tokyo in 2020.
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