Mick Fanning on shark culling and why he no longer needs to 'man up'
The modern man
Take it from the only person who knows: 34-year-old Australian surfer Mick Fanning, who made international headlines when he was attacked by a four-metre great white on July 19 at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
In Sydney to accept GQ Sportsman of the Year last night and looking razor sharp in an Ermenegildo Zegna tux, Fanning has learnt to relax under media scrutiny - even though he was already a three time world title champion before the attack, the attention he got then is nothing to what he attracts now. "When I'm at home and walking the dog on the beach it just feels the same, but once you get into media areas it's a little bit, no, a lot, more attention," he admits.
So just how does someone get back in the water after facing everybody's worst fear? "I sort of look at it as crossing the street and you have a car you just miss and you say, okay, that happened, I'm lucky, be a little bit more cautious next time and move on," he says. "I wanted to get back out there pretty quick, because the longer you leave it the worse it gets and you start to think up all these scenarios in your head."
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But isn't it always in the back of his mind when he's in the water? "It always was, but I think I'm a little bit more wary of it now. Back in the day I used to just push it away, think 'nah you're being stupid, man up' sort of thing and now I listen to my gut instinct," he says. "If I think I'm not in a safe place, I just come in. I've seen sharks since, but it's the ones you don't see that are the scary ones." He's adamant the attack hasn't affected his enjoyment of the sport. "I was really enjoying my surfing before and still am. If anything, I've just learnt more about myself." Trust a man like Fanning to see the silver lining in everyone's worst nightmare.
If there was ever an advocate for shark culling, you'd think Fanning would be it, but the surfer remains philosophical on the subject. "I don't think culling would benefit anyone," he says. "I think we need to go and research sharks and find out exactly what they're thinking and where they're going and get some really good deterrents."
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The attack isn't the first time Fanning has had to claw his way back from adversity - in 2004 he was left unable to surf for six months following a surfing accident in Indonesia, where he ripped his hamstring right off the bone and faced the possibility of never surfing competitively again. He fought back then to usurp surfing legend Kelly Slater for the 2007 world title, a win he dedicated to his brother Sean, who died in a car accident when Fanning was 16. Perhaps that's why July's attack hasn't dramatically changed his perspective on life - this is a man who already knows not to take anything for granted.
It's refreshing to find a man willing to speak honestly about his feelings, particularly one who's top of his game in a professional sport. Fanning has no time for false bravado: "As men you get brought up to hide emotions but really, it's just being honest that's most important," he says. "We're all human at the end of the day."
And for all the surfers out there who want to know where to find the best waves in the world: "D-Bar [Duranbah Beach], on the New South Wales side of the Queensland/New South Wales border," Fanning says. "It's the one I grew up with and fell in love with first."
Fanning flies to Hawaii in the coming weeks for a chance to win his fourth surfing world title.
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