Kelly Slater pays tribute to retiring ‘straight shooter’ Mick Fanning
It is not every day one's Instagram inbox lights up with a return message from eleven-time world champion surfer, Kelly Slater — and believe me I've tried more than, well, twelve times.
But for what it was worth, no sooner did the news break that Australian surfer Mick Fanning had announced his retirement did I decide to throw caution to the wind and give it one last shot (I promise Kelly).
Within minutes, and much to my giddy surf-fan's delight, came the reply:
"Mick's a great champion and an even better person," the eleven-time world champion began, on the incredible career of Michael Fanning.
"It's been an honour to compete alongside him and to become good friends with him."
"He's always been a straight shooter and taught me a lot about myself."
"Congrats to Mick on a great career. His mum is a legend also."
Slater's prompt reply goes a long way to illustrate the respect Fanning has amassed from not just surfing circles, but the world at large.
"Good luck finding a bad word about him over the next couple of weeks," surf writer Sean Doherty said.
"The worst thing you could say about anyone that achieves the level of success Mick has is 'you've changed' but he's in every way the same guy he was before he became the Mick Fanning that he is today."
Between the guy he "was" and the Mick Fanning he is today though would stand a myriad of personal tragedies that for better or worse would come to define him as both a champion athlete and universally loved person.
Inspiring journey beyond tragedy
Fanning of course became known to the wider world on the back of an extraordinary encounter with a white pointer at Jeffreys Bay in July, 2015.
The footage, currently sitting at 25 million views(a number sure to double overnight) still makes surfers the world over wince but it would be what Fanning did next that would inspire everyone else.
At the tail-end of an already traumatic year, Fanning was dealt a further blow with the sudden death of brother Peter on the eve of a world title showdown he would lose to Brazil's Adriano DeSouza.
In February 2016, Fanning and then wife Karissa Dalton announced their separation and soon after he announced he would taking the year off to "re-group and re-stoke the fire".
"That shark thing, of all the things he dealt with afterwards, might have been the easiest to deal with," Doherty said.
"The personal stuff, and particularly the marriage break up and the death of two brothers [Sean Fanning died in a car accident in 1998], that's the stuff that really defines you in the long run."
"I mean, when you really look at what has happened and you stack it up end to end, you can't help but think, 'My god, that really happened to one guy?'"
Though he would return to win at Jeffreys Bay in 2016, he would forever endure himself to the world at large for a simple gesture — donating a reported $75,000 paycheque from a tell-all appearance on 60 Minutes to fellow shark victim Matt Lee.
Fanning also introduced a level of athleticism to professional surfing not seen before, in part to deal with injury but perhaps also as a weapon against the all-consuming brilliance of Slater.
"His first world title was the original blue-collar world title. Up until that point they'd all been won on sheer brilliance, " says Doherty.
"That was one the one that was really defined by him working on his physical strength and with that came the mental strength and it absolutely set the blueprint for what you see on the world tour today.
"here's surfers in gyms, high performance centres around the place and a lot of that came on the back of what he did."
'Won't be another like him'
In a career defined by triumph over tragedy, Fanning has retained a likeability that few of his calibre do. Ask anyone within his expansive circle and most will point back to the guiding hand of mother Elizabeth Osborne.
Then there are the lifelong friendships forged out in the waves of his hometown and the world at large. Either way, professional surfing has been made the better for him.
It's that quality of not ever losing where he came from," Doherty surmised after a lengthy pause.
"He came from a broken home, he had it tough and with all the successes that eventually came together on the back of his God-given talent is that simple quality that none of it ever changed him. There won't be another like him, that's for sure."