After taking a year away from full time competitive surfing, Mick Fanning is finally back in the driver seat as he chased down more waves and barrels at the first stop on the WSL Tour in Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast.
For the 35 year old, 2017 is different. He has nothing to prove with three world titles under his belt, and comes into the season with a newfound passion and zest that extends far beyond the jersey.
“It  was an awesome year. I got to travel to places I never thought I’d get to. I got to surf under the northern lights; I got to go to amazing places with Ripcurl like the Arctic Circle,” Fanning told Global Surf Sounds.
“It was just great to disappear you know and going to places where there weren’t many people… And being able to rest.”
It’s in stark contrast to where Fanning left things off in 2015. Marginally losing his quest for another world title, compounded by the passing of his brother, ending of his marriage and shocking shark attack, it was no easy pill to swallow. Feeling a shadow of his former self, Fanning described himself as “exhausted” and says he “couldn’t get motivated”.
Yet we are talking about Mick Fanning, and he is undoubtedly one of the toughest guys on the planet. Straight back into the mix and down to business, the three times world champ rose to the challenge come Round 1 at Snapper Rocks against 11 times World Champion Kelly Slater and talented Frenchman Jeremy Florence.
“We are in the best tour in the world so why not go against the best straight up. I guess also you don’t have that fear of warm-up. You got to get straight into it. Kelly is a phenomenal surfer and Jeremy has won a lot of events, a lot of big events so that was a really dangerous heat,” Fanning said after his maiden victory for the season.
“I’m trying to take a different approach being a bit more relaxed. Look when you’ve also got the best surfers in the world with Kelly and Jeremy, you can’t hold back and you just got to go for it.”
“Just going for it when you need to – I think that’s the key.”
With a reputation for iron nerves and consistently high levels of performance, it’s a win that came as no surprise. Crediting his time away from the tour as pivotal to his new found inspiration in the jersey, Fanning is keen to reshape his calling and surf with a whole new perspective.
“It’s great to step outside this circle [the WSL tour]. I love this family and I love everything that goes with it. But also too, it’s great to get away you know. It’s great to go and explore different things. I’ve been on tour for 15 years and it’s always good to have a bit of a holiday, long service leave. Being in title races for four years in a row and getting up every day and trying to put in 100% – it’s draining. It’s hard work. Sometimes your mind needs a rest, your body needs a rest.”
“Look ,everything’s feeling good. I’ve been home for a long time now so it’s been good. The main goal is just to perform. If I win, I win and if I lose, as long as I did my best, I’m all good.”
Unfortunately for Fanning, things did not go his way in Round 3. Another fairy-tale comeback took Fanning’s, with fellow countryman Owen Wright, who sat out last year following a brain injury in Hawaii at the end of the 2015 season, beating Fanning by a mere 0.1 of a score.
No doubt, a newly recharged Fanning will bounce back strong for the rest of the tour.