The 2015 WSL title race was anything but ordinary. Full of unexpected twists and turns, it opened my eyes to what’s truly possible. I realized that life doesn’t always go to plan or to script for that matter. It goes how it goes.
Sometimes it goes to your favour, and sometimes you get knocked down. And with that – you can get pounded so hard, so relentlessly that you wonder what’s fair and what’s not. Just ask Mick Fanning.
First a shack attack at South Africa in July 2015, then he loses his brother in December, then he fails on his quest for another world title that same week. And come January 2016, he announces his split from his long term partner and wife. Oouch. Talk about a lot to swallow.
Holding back tears, Mick dished out some good advice on finals day in December 2015, and its words I’ve since cherished.
“A friend told me once – we can deal with anything. You just gotta do it the best we can and stay true to yourself. And yeah things will happen,” he muttered.
So how will Mick Fanning bounce back from his year from hell?
With Fannings recent announcement of his intention to take a break from the tour, it is clear that there will be plenty of introspection. One other thing for sure, is that we are talking about Mick Fanning and he is one of the toughest characters on the planet. It’s why Adriano De Souza, the nemesis of Mick and newly crowned World Champ, called him his idol. Yes, just like Adriano, Mick has always been a fighter his entire life. Difference was – Mick usually came out on top.
Right from the first stop of the WSL tour in 2015, Adriano was singing the praises of the three times world champ and hinted his intention to replicate as much of the Australian icon as humanly possible in his quest to attain a world title.
“He [Mick Fanning] is such a legend and everything he does in the sport I use as an inspiration for myself. Mick is such an amazing athlete”.
“He works so hard all year,” sighed De Souza. “I never had his success but I try every day.”
The feelings of respect were mutual, with Fanning noting the incredible force of the humble 28 year old along with the entire Brazilian storm.
“He [Adriano] is a fighter, a great surfer, good guy,” Fanning affirmed in March 2015.
Yes Adriano is a fighter indeed. Finally securing his first ever world title and Brazil’s first Pipe Masters crowning, the 28 year old left a profound message for the world – believe in yourself, strive hard and don’t ever give up. For Adriano’s path to victory, was no easy feat.
Growing up in a poor village with little money to his name, he had to rely on sponsors to fund his dreams, aka “fight”. So no sooner having achieved his life-time goal in Hawaii last year, he didn’t let the moment tarnish his focus for 2016.
In an interview with his sponsor Redbull on the day after his epic victory, the humble Brazilian stated his intention for the upcoming days– business as usual. For us lay persons, that means back to the grind, back to the ocean and honing for another world title. No ifs or buts.
“Tomorrow everything resets to zero and I need to get back on track to do well at Snapper,” De Souza said. “I think I’m going to stay here in Hawaii until January. I want to practise. There are things I need to improve at Pipe. It will be hard breaking it to my wife, but at least now I have a world title I think I can have more of a say!”
Yet despite the fiery focus and unrelenting resolve that oozes out of De Souza, his monumental victory at Pipe and clinching of Brazil’s second world title still came as a shock. No one expected De Souza to win, himself included.
Mid-way through the WSL tour, De Souza hinted that if he had to pick someone to win the title, “it would be Mick [Fanning]”. Come the final show-down at Pipe, the feeling was no different.
“I really feel like he [Fanning] deserved to win this title after everything he’s been through – the shark attack, winning two events, and now his brother passing. Unfortunately there can only be one winner, and if it couldn’t be Mick I’m happy that it’s me,” the newly crowned world champ shared with tear-welled eyes.
Yes the world title was supposed to be Micks. Wasn’t it?
To answer this fully, it’s necessary to backtrack a little in what becomes a colourful interplay of the pawns in the clog that unknowingly or knowingly assisted De Souza in clinching his first world title.
Let’s go back to the first stop on the 2015 WSL tour. When most were paying attention to the newly crowned Brazilian world champ (Gabriel Medina), Adriano was in my sights – for some reason, my money was edging towards De Souza. Maybe it was the ‘sting’ of knowing Brazil’s first ever world title could never be his, but I noticed this newly found fire and steely resolve in the eyes of the veteran.
“I try to keep pushing, I never win this event before so for sure that is my goal to do well here and see what I can do next round… I’m just focused on this event here, you never know what happens tomorrow, so I’ll just try to do everything I can today,” De Souza shared.
Surely he did. Finishing the event in 3rd place, De Souza highlighted the challenges and unconventional ways that paved his monumental year and ultimate clinching of his first world title – which included drawing inspiration from a multitude of sources –inner and outer, local and abroad.
“Before the heat, I just concentrate on myself, that’s what I have to do out there, I have to give 100%,” reflects De Souza.
“Sometimes I try to bring some energy outside of my body. I always try to do some yoga breath [before a heat]. It helps to bring in all the energy. It helps me start to breathe just from the heart….The heart muscle, not from the stomach.”
“My beginning [in life] was definitely really tough, and I use that thing for bringing me on for the fight. Definitely my beginning, for sure I use every single day of my life even without contest of any competition. ”
“I wish so much to be born right now you know, be born this time of year [because then] I have a mirror like Gabriel, Filipe on the path, guys ahead, showing me how to get there.
“I had to do my own self you know,” De Souza explains with a sigh.
Yes for so long, De Souza led the charge for Brazil in first attempt to win a world title. Coming from humble beginnings with few peers to support or spur him on, it was no easy feat. Unfortunately, the maiden glory was never to be his.
Mick Fanning noted this in March 2015 and stated “with Gabe having the world title last year, I think it was a big confidence boost obviously for Gabe, but I think for the other [Brazilian] guys. You know they’re like, oh well, he’s done the same round as we have, so we can do it too”.
Ironically, it was Gabriel Medina who knocked Fanning out of the title race in the dying seconds of their semi-final matchup with his impressive air reverse to secure Adriano an open path to victory.
So perhaps after all, was 2015 destined to be De Souza’s year?
The way I see it is that hard work pays off. Dreams do come true. And maybe we should all consider believing in ourselves a little bit more. So now, as the WSL tour wakes up from its three months slumber, with all eyes on the show about to begin I ask myself, what else is possible?
The first stop of the 2016 WSL tour kicks off on the Gold Coast from March 10-21.