Words by Sean Doherty
In some ways, it feels like Mick Fanning has been around forever. He won his first major tour event in a previous millennium, aged just 17, coming from nowhere. In the years since, there have been several distinct Fanning eras. Snowy-haired, rubber-limbed little ratbag. Founding member of the Cooly Kids. Minister for Good Times on Tour. Hard-ass, clinical world champ. Australian surfing icon. The bloke who almost got taken by a shark on live TV.
But when you condense Mick’s career down to an 11-minute edit, you might feel it’s also gone past in the blink of an eye. Vaughan Blakey, who’s been there pretty much every step of the way, had the job of pulling together Triptych (which will be released over the coming few weeks) — and hinted there might be another Fanning era yet to come.
Vaughano, you just made a movie about Mick. Tell us about it.
VB: Mick called and just said, ‘Hey I just re-signed with Reef (for another 10 years) who’ve been my sponsor forever, you want to try and do something?’ We didn’t have much time to shoot new material — but we were sitting on all of Shagga’s footage since Mick was 15.
That would’ve been a gold mine.
Mick was like: “I just want a surf section. I just want to have a real sick surf section.” But I knew we weren’t gonna have much time to film. The Reef brief was like, well, we we’ve been with him since he was a little white-haired whippet. They wanted to tap into the Mick life story that they’d been a part of. But the biggest challenge was the Mick life story has been so well documented already. So, I just combined the idea that Mick had of doing a surf section — but then tried to make something that connected the different parts of his life. Like, there’s so many different Fanning eras, and I just felt like we could follow his journey through the last 25 or 30 years purely based on his surfing and the look of that time.
How many Fanning eras are there?
That’s what was stoking me out so much going through the footage. We get sucked into the life story, but we tried to do it through his surfing. There’s hilarious clips in there where he’s 13 and kind of got an awkward body shape and his boardies are way too long and he’s a long way from the Fanning mega monster we know now… but you can kinda see it forming. It’s amazing. Like when you when you go through all the old Shagga footage from Mick’s life, it just seems like it’s all gone by in the blink of an eye. I think what stoked me out more than anything, is how good he’s surfed his whole life. Running the clips side by side and overlapping and stuff, I was just going, ‘holy cow.’ You can just see it… you can see what was coming.
That Enjoy The Ride era when Mick was 14, he was just this little white spider monkey, but then you see him out at solid Kirra and there’s a bit of authority about how he surfs it.
What’s trippy is how quickly it happened. You just go; this kid is so good, and within two or three years of that, he’s already smashing all the legends at the Konica Skins and he’s just on that mad roll. Man, you’re looking at this little spider monkey, and within three years he’s a full blown force.
I flashed ahead to that Lennox session on that famous East Coast swell in 2001. I think it ended up being Fanning The Fire. In terms of rail surfing it fully holds up today.
Big time. I think I saw a quote from Derek Hynd saying that every surfer needs a session that defines them before they go on to greatness — and he points that one out is as the moment Mick stops being a boy. It’s like fully double overhead sets, some big pipes out the back and he’s got such a good read, putting them together like those Curren sessions. That was a magic time.
I was going to get your thoughts on the Three Degrees era when Mick, Joel and Dingo went from Coolangatta ratbags to global stars.
Three Degrees is exactly where it starts going turbo, and I think that’s the time where they started growing into themselves. They can sense they’ve got the world at their feet and they’re getting that kind of almost arrogance about them. And the fact they’ve got the power of three is just so radical. I always remember that cover you ran of them at Tracks. I mean, it’s just, there was just no doubt that those three guys had the future of Australian surfing in their hands. Yeah, they were like a boy band. They’ve got the same hype and energy levels around them as N’Sync — except their music was AC/DC. They had every single Aussie on board. It was crazy. That was such a phenomenon and looking back on it, you couldn’t pick the leader of the pack.
Have you got a favourite era of Mick?
Yeah, well, I think my favourite era of Mick is… it’s a later one actually. I really love that like little golden run he went on when he was 17 when he won the Konica, he won Newcastle, he won Margs and he just had this outrageous roll. I remember commentating the Skins and he won like 21 grand that day. I think it might’ve been his brother’s birthday, Sean’s birthday. His brother had died the year before. But something real spiritual happened that day, which tends to happen with Mick throughout his career. I love that era because it was just undeniable what was coming. But my favourite era is just kind of happening right now. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a lot of trips with him recently and put together these movies, but I just don’t think he’s ever surfed better which is trippy. The only other person I can really think of who, who got better and better and better, the further they sort of got into their surfing life was Curren.
I can’t think of another surfer who’s pulled it. Kelly is something else again, but you think of guys who’ve faded in and out of fitness or form or whatever. But I just feel like Mick and Curren just get better in terms of rail surfing. But more than anything, just the timing. Like it just feels like they really enter that space where you are starting to talk about their surfing like it’s… it’s not just something they do. The level of understanding and mastery that’s from another dimension.
The overlay technique you used in the film, with young Mick and old Mick surfing side-by-side is a trip. His surfing has changed… but it also hasn’t. His physicality and body shape certainly have, but you look at the lines he draws and it hasn’t really changed that much, it’s just been refined.
Yeah, man. And I think that you could say the same for Curren. Like, he just seemed like he was getting nearer and nearer to perfection. Yeah, that’s kind of the best way to describe it. But yeah, that that overlay stuff was so unbelievable. When we started mucking around this is a really good way to showcase Mick’s journey in three minutes. The whole journey. Really, it’s like a synch thing, like a rhythm thing. That was like the biggest, most pleasant surprise. Every single time we found like a wave on the same angle and we put it next to each other, we would just go, “Whaaaaaaat!”
You can watch the archive footage here and watch his surfing mature, watch him physically mature… but do you reckon you get a sense of Mick himself maturing, just by watching him surf?
You’re right, we wanted to showcase this sort of growth in Mick and in that middle section, where it’s just a full blown surf movie of three miscellaneous waves from different sessions over three decades. And you can fully feel him get more powerful, and I reckon that’s one of the main themes. That middle section is the beef of his career and you can sense him getting more and more powerful. And then the last session is a road trip, so there’s nothing on the line, you know, and I reckon the last two minutes of the whole movie, where it’s just him surfing at home and cruising on his own terms, you can see it. He’s the master of his domain. He’s got such command over his surfing, and I just think it does reflect of how he goes through life.
Last one… has Mick got another era in hm? What does he do next?
For sure. When you surf that good, there’s so much to do. I know that he’s experimenting with twinnies and different shaped boards, but his surfing’s eternal. I don’t think we’ll ever get bored of watching him surf.
Stay tuned for more, full edit is dropping in the next few weeks.