The 29-year-old from Tweed Heads on the NSW north coast has twice been world surfing champion – in 2007 and 2009 – and this year he’s chasing a third world title. MF’s Tim Spicer asked Mick how he trains to stay at the top – and about the mysterious “Eugene”.
You’re heavily involved with CHEK training [a holistic approach to fitness that covers everything from healthy eating to corrective exercise and high-performance training]. How has it helped focus your surfing?
I first went there for my rehab when I injured my leg [Mick tore his hamstring off the bone while surfing on a photo trip in Indonesia in 2004; he was out of action for six months] and just kept going through the programs. It’s specific for each person, so it helps with my stability and strength; helps with being aware of which muscles you need to use. You can tailor it to do whatever you want. You can make it so you can land on unstable ground, or stable ground – it all depends what you’re into.
There are some interesting techniques involved, including standing on a Swiss ball while a trainer throws medicine balls at you. Can you tell us more about this?
With weights, you use the big muscles, but when you’re standing on a Swiss ball, it’s so unstable, and then having other balls thrown at you turns on the little muscles you’d never think about; tiny stabilising muscles. In surfing, we’re constantly getting hit by water and all these different variables – the surface conditions are always changing, so you need to have those little muscles turned on.
And do you get involved with the spiritual side of CHEK at all?
I’m not going to walk around the beach and start omming [as in a yoga chant] or anything like that, but you can’t really go past it when you’re out in the water and there’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Just being in the ocean is pretty spiritual.
ATHLETE BIO – Age: 29; Place of Birth: Penrith, NSW; Lives: Tweed Heads, NSW; Stance: Regular; Best Finish: ASP Men’s World Champion in 2007 & 2009; Nicknames: Eugene, Micktor or White LIghtning; Web: mickfanning.com.au
In a contest, how much of each ride is planned before you start a run and how much is improvised?
You go out there with a general plan, but there’s a lot of improvisation the whole ride, because you never know what the wave is going to do or what situation you’re going to be in. You have to have about six different plans as the heat goes on. Sometimes, the surf will look a lot different from the beach. Sometimes, you’ll think about finishing the wave with a big bang, or starting it. It’s just a matter of going with the flow.
Big aerials have become a huge part of surfing. Any predictions for manoeuvres that could become favourites for the pros?
Everyone’s pushing the boundaries pretty hard right now. The main thing for surfers is they can’t get the same section over and over again, as you would if you were on a skate ramp or at a snowboard park. That’s the hardest part. However, I’m sure they’ll be doing backflips and all kinds of crazy spins and grabs in the next few years.
Volcom put up prize money for the first surfer to do a kickflip [a skateboard trick where the rider pops the board, spins it 360 degrees along its axis and lands back on the deck]…
Yeah, I don’t think anyone has done it yet. I haven’t tried it myself – I want to keep my feet. I don’t want to kill myself trying those things.
What do you eat in a typical day?
I try to change it up a fair bit. I don’t freak out and eat the exact same thing every day. As long as I’ve got some meat and salad or something in every meal, I think that’s a pretty good balance.
Where is your favourite location on the World Championship Tour?
Definitely home [Snapper Rocks, on Queensland’s Gold Coast]. There’s no place like it.
What’s your worst habit on the Tour?
I eat too much chocolate (laughs). I love it.
If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were grommet, what would it be?
Just have fun, that’s the main thing. The people who are doing really well are having a lot of fun. So just enjoy it and live it up.
Tell me about Eugene, your alter-ego.
A mate came up with that a long time ago. He reckoned I turned into a different person after a couple of beers, so he started calling that person “Eugene”, my middle name. It just stuck. But I haven’t seen Eugene for a long time; it’s been awesome – I’ve been out of trouble!
Your dog, Taylor, looks like a little ripper – can he surf too?
Nah, he doesn’t surf. If we’re in the water, he’ll try to avoid me, because he thinks I’ll throw him under.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
I’ve got one about 10cm long on my arse from when I had surgery after tearing my hamstring off the bone. I forget about it every now and then, but it’s still there, otherwise I’d be winning the best bum competition!
That must have been a tough time for you. Do you think you came back stronger after you recovered?
It gave me a better appreciation for what I do. I was on tour, having fun, but I wasn’t amazingly serious about it. Then, when I got injured and was out of the water for so long, I realised how much I missed it – and that I could have won it if I’d done certain things differently.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the Tour?
I’ve seen some pretty wild things. Last year, I went swimming with whales – we were on a boat in Tahiti and saw them coming down the reef, so we jumped in and started swimming around them. I got really close to one and touched its tail, which was pretty mind-blowing.
What’s your approach this year?
To try for the world title is the main goal, but a lot of it is going from event to event and to stay relaxed and clear-headed throughout the year. Hopefully, that works. As long as I stay happy, then it’s all good.
I know you’re married, so probably shouldn’t say, but who’s the hottest surfer on the women’s Tour?
Alana Blanchard gets the most attention – even the girls like her.
What do you love more than surfing?
My family, friends and dog.