Few surfers have the same level of dedication and commitment to professionalism as Mick Fanning. The three-time surfing world champion is known for his lightning focus in heats, earning him the surfers nickname “White Lightning” and surfing with unrivaled speed, power, and flow. Outside of the water, Mick is known for embodying the true Aussie spirit, work hard and play harder. Popular among his peers, he is one of the most influential surfers of our time.
However, things haven’t come easy for Mick Fanning. Facing adversity and more than his fair share of challenges, Mick has experienced things that most of us can’t imagine; good and bad. After losing his brother at age 17, getting attacked by a shark on live television, and losing another brother and a world title in the same year, Mick has etched his name in surfing folklore.
With 3 x world titles, and some of the most significant contracts in surfing, Mick is still one of the most successful surfers ever; let’s dive into his life, from where it all started, his major achievements to where Mick is now.
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The Rise & Rise of Young Mick Fanning
Born on 13 June 1981 in Penrith, New South Wales, Mick was born into a single-parent family of four brothers in a public housing commission flat. The brothers were fiercely competitive and played all different sports. But Mick’s passion and focus for surfing wouldn’t happen until the family moved north to the Gold Coast when Mick was 12. The Gold Coast would pave the way for Mick’s early career, surfing Coolangatta’s perfect pointbreaks and punchy beachies and battling out with close friends and fellow aspiring pro surfers Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison.
Young Mick was surfing well, entering local events, winning, and surfing with the speed, power, and flow he is known for today. He was taking the first steps to become a fully-fledged professional surfer. At 17, Mick lost his older brother Sean (an amazing surfer) in a car accident. Afterward, Mick dropped out of high school and went all in and pursuing the pro surfing dream.
Mick’s Career & Achievements
After winning his first-ever event as a wildcard at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in 2001, Mick qualified for the World Championship Tour full-time in 2022. In his first year, he won the Billabong Pro J-Bay and won Rookie of the Year (highest-finishing rookie surfer for that year). After a few ok but nothing special years on the CT, Mick suffered a devastating injury in 2004.
While on an Indonesian boat trip, Fanning tore his hamstring off the bone, ruling him out for the rest of that year. A long recovery process followed, and “white lightning” used this opportunity to change his attitude toward his career. Back in the day, the WCT was a full-on party scene, and it wasn’t uncommon for surfers to party all night and paddle out for heats still dusty from the night before.
But young Mick was dedicated to adopting a more professional approach. Adopting the approach of British football teams, Mick developed a network of support from coaches, nutritionists, and everyone who could help him succeed on the world tour. He also began to take training and diet more seriously–fully committing to winning a world title campaign.
Mick went on to win 3 x world titles. His first in Brazil in 2007, after battling Kelly Slater for the entire year. He then went on to repeat the same feat in 2009 and 2013. His three world titles put Mick into the same category as the greats, surfing legends like Sunny Garcia, Kelly Slater, and Andy Irons.
Mick’s Profile & Equipment
While known for being the fastest surfer with an unrivaled ability to connect turns with power and flow, Mick stands only 1.78m tall and weighs only 75kg. He has a strong relationship with lifelong shaper DHD (Darren Handly). The relationship allowed the two to work on refined board models to give Fanning an edge in competition.
This close surfer/shaper relationship is one of the most notable in surfing (only John Florence and Pyzel have a more intimate working relationship) and has helped Mick succeed. Typically, Fanning rides a 5’11 x 18.75 x 2.28 shortboard. It’s worth noting that although Mick rides DHD almost exclusively, he also uses Tokoro surfboards in Hawaii.
The Shark Attack Incident
Although Mick Fanning was already one of the best and most famous surfers ever, the famous Shark attack incident 2015 brought Mick mainstream fame, but not for the reasons he expected. During the Championship Tour event final at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, Mick was surfing against fellow Australian and tour veteran Julian Wilson.
Suddenly there was a lull between waves and a huge splash behind Mick. Viewers are blocked from view for a second, and we see Mick swimming on his back toward the shore. After a dramatic 30 seconds, the jetski is there to pick him up, and Mick comes out of the incident relatively unscathed.
Mick was attacked by what is thought to be a Great White shark. The incident was captured live on TV worldwide, with millions watching. J-Bay is notorious for sharks, but during a CT final in front of the whole world is unheard of.
The broadcast snippet shows how Mick was knocked off his board as a shark got tangled in his leg rope–the only damage to Mick and his board was a snapped leg rope, luckily! Global news outlets reported the event, and after ten days out of the water, Mick returned to the waves at home of the Gold Coast before returning to J-bay for the event the following year and winning!
Retirement, Net Worth & Personal Life
Mick Fanning retired in 2018. After losing his eldest brother and world title to Gabriel Medina in the same year, Mick called it quits on the World Tour. However, he still surfs incredibly well, appears in many surf media productions, and is frequently spotted gracing the Gold Coast pointbreaks. And remains one of the most notable and influential surfers of our time.
Mick’s success has brought him fame and fortune throughout his career and several high-profile sponsors such as Rip Curl, Red Bull, and Audi–amassing fortunes in contest winnings, contracts, and wise investments. Mick was in ads and magazines everywhere in surfing’s heyday with signature products for some of surfing’s biggest brands.
Now Mick owns his own soft board company (Mick Fanning Softboards) and co-owns beer company Balter Brewing Co with fellow Gold Coast ex-pro surfers Bede Durdbdge and Josh Kerr. His wise investments have helped Mick amass a net worth of around $20 million. Today, Mick splits his time between his beloved Gold Coast and San Clemente, California, where his wife is from–the two have recently had a son!
The Future of Mick Fanning
Although Mick is now retired and we don’t see Mick surf as much as we used to, you can still tap into epic surf movies and series, such as Missing, and classics like Lightning Strikes. Or my personal favorite, Stab in The Dark: Mick Fanning. It’s no doubt that Mick is a surfing legend, and if you want to see a flawless technique to model your surfing on and inspire yourself with a dedicated mindset, there is no one better to watch/listen to. Mick remains one of my favorite surfers ever, and I’d highly recommend Mick’s book (Surf for Your Life) for insights into what it takes to become a professional surfer and athlete.
Dan Harmon is a content writer and full-time surf travel enthusiast. He travels the world full-time while creating surf content, traveling to the world’s best surf destinations, and hunting out some lesser-known corners. You can follow more of Dan’s travels over on his YouTube Channel, website, and Instagram.