In a feat that further cements Mick Fanning's stature as one of the most dominant surfers of the decade, the 32-year-old Australian claimed his third ASP World Title on Saturday. In hands-down the most steely performance of his career, amid perfect 8-to-12-foot surf at the Billabong Pipeline Masters off the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, he managed to stage dramatic comebacks in Round 5 and the quarterfinals to edge out 11-time world champion Kelly Slater for the 2013 crown. "I'm overwhelmed with emotion right now, it's incredible," Fanning said shortly after returning to the beach.
But the day didn't start as he'd hoped. In its first heat, Fanning took a number of large set waves on the head, which apparently woke him up. In the final moments of Round 5, a high-scoring wave rolled his way and he capitalized on it.
"I just got lucky," he said after slipping past CJ Hobgood with a last-second 9-point ride. "I knew it was going to be a big one. I just held on. I wasn't too nervous to tell you the truth. In these kind of conditions you either get them or you don't. When it's like this it's more you against the ocean."
In the pivotal quarterfinals, Fanning opened with a 7-point ride on the first backdoor wave of the day. But 32nd-ranked Yadin Nicol, on the brink of falling off the tour, opened his account with a near-perfect 9.93. Needing a 9.57 with four minutes left on the clock, the pressure was back on Fanning. There was an exchange between the two surfers in the waters. Fanning hit his knee on the reef as Nicol got a small tube. The scoreline remained the same. Fanning made it out the back first, and with a set approaching in the dying minutes, he scratched into a beast. In what can only be considered one of the most historic waves in world title history, he got spit out at the end of a long, roping barrel and found his way to the beach with his fate in the hands of the judges.
The score dropped. He got it. The title was his. The beach erupted in applause. "It was a fun year. I just really wanted to enjoy my time on tour," Fanning said. "I wanted to breathe, soak in how lucky we are, and enjoy it."
Packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the beach, Fanning graciously thanked family friends and sponsors while the surf continued to pour through. "My mum, she's a nervous wreck, but she should be alright now," he smiled.
As for Slater's part in it all, it was over before the 41-year-old even got a chance to surf. Prior to the event, he alluded to retiring if he was able to win his 12th title and the Pipe Masters, but it was not to be. After a back-and-forth battle all year long with Fanning, 2013 will be remember as one of the closest races in ASP history.