Flashback: To Mick Fanning’s Wildcard Victory At Bells Beach
In the new issue of Surfing World MagazineRead more
Memory is a strange thing. I remember being about nine or ten years old when my dad took my brother and I down to Bells to see Mick Fanning win his first CT event. But the maths disproves my memory. I was 14 when I was sitting on the floor with some Vegemite toast, playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, when Dad came in the back door and filled the room with the smell of grass clippings and petrol.
“Do you want to go to the Rip Curl Pro? Just heard on the radio they’ll be running the final today. It’ll be free if we go in the afternoon.”
Bells was on, two hours drive away from the beachside suburbs of Melbourne. But there was no webcast. Just the usual sit, and wait, and hope to get 30 seconds of the thing on Sports Tonight, if Mum would let you stay up for it.
Going to things late and getting in for free was Dad’s thing. We went to the last quarter of the 94 AFL Grand Final and sat in the aisles after they opened the gates at three quarter time. He’d apparently done the same thing to see Frank Sinatra at Festival Hall in the 60s. And we did the same thing in 2001 for this Rip Curl Pro at Bells.
Two hours drive later, and we’re walking down the cold road, past the ticket gates that are empty, and straight towards a historic moment in Australian surfing history. Though we didn’t know it.
We had no idea who was still surfing in the comp. Nor what was going on. But we’d caught wind through excited murmurings hanging in the breeze that the final was about to start. It was either almost dusk, or a very cold and dark overcast day.
Alongside us, also walking down the road to Bells, was Danny Wills. Two boards under his arm. No caddie or entourage. He was in a red comp rashie. At that moment, Danny Wills was my favourite surfer because this moment was the closest I’d ever been to a professional surfer. Walking right there, on the same road. He was also from Byron Bay. And I had been to Byron Bay once (the only place outside of Victoria I’d ever been surfing), so that was another deep connection I had to the guy.
Turns out he was surfing against a young guy named Mick Fanning, a 19-year-old wildcard that had surfed his way against the odds and through to the final. We knew Mick Fanning from Chocolate Barrels and Liquid Trips and the Pulse surf videos we’d watched after school everyday. Again, memory is weird, I can’t remember any of the surfing itself from that day except for seeing the whippet frame of Mick get speed through flat sections by hopping his super thin thruster the same way I did, the way Dad used to point out as wrong. Dad’d later say to me, “I don’t mind you doing that anymore, I saw a guy named Mick Fanning win Bells doing that.”
What I remember most of all, standing on the rocks down the bottom of Bells, is watching the reactions of everyone around me. They were going nuts for Mick. Just ballistic for the young whippet.
I remember watching them confused and thinking, “Why is everyone celebrating this young guy like he’s their football team, finally winning a premiership after decades without one? Particularly against another Australian from just as far away to this beach as Mick was. What connection could they possibly have to this guy?”
The truth is, they were seeing something I couldn’t. They were seeing a new saviour for Australian competitive surfing. A white spark of sunshine that could break through the cold grey of American/Hawaiian dominance.
Because while Occy snatched one in 99, Damien Hardman’s title in 91 had marked an end of Australian dominance before a decade of Slater laying waste to everyone in his way.
Fanning, right there as a wiry 19-year-old wildcard holding aloft the heavy Bells trophy at the beginning of his career, represented a new hope for Australian surfing. And he was on Channel 10’s The Panel the following Wednesday, which was also good.