Surfing is contested on the most spectacular and dynamic stages in world sport but never has there been a year more dramatic than 2015.
The world watched as 34-year-old Gold Coaster Mick Fanning escaped from the jaws of a great white while competing in South Africa.
But, that traumatic experience paled into insignificance at the season-ending Billabong Pipeline Masters at Oahu, Hawaii where he had to deal with the pain and emotion of the sudden and unexpected death of his older brother Peter, with a record fourth world title on the line.
He courageously won his way into the semifinals, beating 11-time world champion Kelly Slater twice, before eventually falling to reigning champion Gabriel Medina of Brazil by the most slender of margins.
In doing so he paved the way for another Brazilian, Adriano de Souza, to secure the 2015 crown.
“The energy has been amazing walking down to the shore,” an emotional Fanning said after accepting his campaign for the year was over.
“I was almost in tears every time I paddled out, just kind of going with the emotions.
“A friend once told me you can do anything you set your mind to if you try your best and stay true to yourself.”
MICK FANNING’S TRIBUTE TO HIS BROTHER ON INSTAGRAM
“I am so grateful for the incredible love and well wishes that have come my way since learning of my eldest brother’s passing this morning. Like all my big brothers, Peter will always be a hero to me. I have so many great memories of the good times we have all spent together and they will be with me forever. We recently caught up and he told me how proud he was of me and how much he loves watching me compete. Today was one of the most challenging days of my life but I knew I could find the strength to take part in the final event of the season because that’s what Pete would want. I also want to give special thanks to my other brothers – my friends on tour – for their support, I couldn’t have got through today without them. I would ask for some privacy on this matter while we come to terms with this devastating loss. Big thanks from our entire family. Tell the special people in your life you love them and give them a hug.”
The season, which started with the Quicksilver Pro on the Gold Coast in February, finally reached a crescendo in Hawaii at the start of December with five men – led by Fanning, all hunting the World Surf League Championship.
The recently launched WSL global advertising campaign aptly titled, You Can’t Script This, highlights the unpredictable nature of the sport.
Featured as part of the campaign is Fanning’s heroic brush with a shark and fellow Aussie, Sally Fitzgibbons’, courageous defiance of the wild conditions to win the Fiji Pro with a burst eardrum.
No other sport can rival surfing’s unscripted and unpredictable moments, which always makes for compelling viewing. Watch the campaign video below:
It has been a tumultuous year for Fanning, the season’s rankings leader vying for his fourth world crown, which would have equaled Australian Mark Richards’ record behind Slater of the US.
His year included campaigning for the Gold Coast’s inclusion as a World Surfing Reserve and the sport’s inclusion at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
He helped rescue fellow surfer, Evan Geiselman, from drowning after being wiped-out on the same Hawaiian strip where Fanning competed for the world title.
At home Fanning was honoured with nomination for The Don Award, became the first man to grace the cover of respected women’s magazine Elle and was named GQ magazine’s Athlete of the Year.
He found time to go surfing with teenage brain cancer victim Ben Beasley, as part of the Starlight Children’s Foundation Grant a Wish campaign.
“Just the simple act of going surfing with someone can help them get through those tough times,” Fanning said.
“Chasing titles may be great but giving back and putting a smile on someone else’s face is a lot better.”
Fanning has never forgotten what is important in life like rushing back home, to his mother’s embrace, after his brush with a shark or dedicating his success to another brother Sean who was tragically killed in a car accident when Fanning was just 17.
In the wake of the shark attack Fanning admitted returning to surfing had helped him deal with the trauma of the incident and strengthened his resolve to dominate the world title race.
“I didn’t have a scratch on me. It was more of a mental and emotional trauma,” he said.
Leading the championship race in one of the tightest contests in memory has not fazed Fanning who has been noticeably relaxed.
“You know that you’ve prepared well and that you are surfing well – it is just a matter of going surfing,” he said.
“You just switch off the brain and go with the flow.
“I’ve had an amazing year, so many things have happened. I laughed a lot, I cried a lot.
“It’s been a year that I’ve tried to just live each and every moment as it’s happened where in the past I’ve probably put things to the side.
“If (the world championship) does happen, awesome – and if it doesn’t happen, awesome. You just want to enjoy those moments.
“But in saying that, I’ve got this far, so you might as well put your head down, prepare well, give it all you’ve got and hopefully it all goes your way.”
The other four men in the hunt alongside Fanning were Brazilians – No.2 Filipe Toledo, No.3 Adriano De Souza, No.4 and reigning WSL champion Gabriel Medina along with defending Pipe Masters winner No.6 Julian Wilson of Australia.
Countryman Owen Wright, the world No.5 was forced to withdraw from the season ending event following a head injury sustained during a practice session.
The impact of being hit by concurrent waves caused severe concussion, mild bleeding on the brain and limited mobility, which saw him being rushed to hospital. However, he was expected to make a full recovery.
Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, who started her campaign with a win at the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast, capped a remarkable year to win her third world crown.
She edged out Californian Courtney Conologue and Australian Sally Fitzgibbons.
Fitzgibbons finished the year ahead of countrymen Tyler Wright (5th), Nikki Van Dijk (9th) and the Tweed’s six-time world champion and last year’s titleholder Stephanie Gilmore (12th).
Gilmore spent most of the year struggling with injury sustained in Margaret River and competed in just five of the 11 events of the season.
Gilmore will miss out on the WSL elite events after finishing two spots outside automatic qualification and would have to rely on a wildcard spot.
The 2016 season returns with the Quicksilver Pro and the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast from March 10 to 21.
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