Surfer Mick Fanning Retires, Rides His Last Competitive Wave

Over his 17-season career, the surfing legend survived a devastating hamstring injury and a face-to-face encounter with a shark

Surfer Mick Fanning, the three-time world champion known as "White Lightning," ended his 17-season career Wednesday, riding his last competitive wave at the Rip Pro Curl Bells Beach in Australia. 

In what was supposed to be a storybook retirement for the 36-year-old veteran, Fanning was unable to best the young Brazilian Italo Ferreira on the final wave of the day and secure his fifth Bells Beach trophy. 

The second place finish marked the end of an era, as the Australian's career saw him win four Bells trophies, three world titles and 22 Champion Tour events. He ranked among some of the greatest surfers in history, like 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. 

He battled incredible challenges throughout his career, including a devastating injury that tore his hamstring clean off his pelvic bone. And he lost his older brother, Peter, to an enlarged heart in 2015, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported. He also lost his younger brother, Sean, in a car accident in 1998 before he started surfing professionally.

In an interview with the Guardian last month, Fanning spoke about how those challenges impacted him. 

"I guess a lot of people face adversity,” Fanning told The Guardian. “It’s just a matter of where you put that energy. For me, the best place to use that energy was in the water."

Another frightening moment came in 2015 when he famously battled a shark during a heat in South Africa. Out in the open water waiting for his wave, Fanning noticed the shark sneak up on the tail of his board, and he quickly reacted. He told WSL after the encounter that he tried to punch the shark, waiting with his "fist cocked" until the rescue boats reached him. 

"I was on top of it trying to put my board in between us," he later told reporters. "I don't know if I punched it hard or if they were baby punches. I just went into fight or flight." 

WSL's video of the dangerous encounter has garnered more than 25 million views on YouTube, and the moment thrust Fanning and the world of surfing into the viral spotlight. 

But these challenges led Fanning to step away from the sport for about six months in 2016, only competing part-time in the WSL tour that year. He came back full-time in 2017 and placed 12th.

Now, after completing his final tour, he said he is thankful to end his career where it all began: Bells Beach, where he won the event in 2001 as a teenager.

"I always wanted to finish here at Bells. It’s a very special moment with the crowd, with my friends here." Fanning told The Guardian after his final heat. "It’s been an amazing career and I just wanted to say thanks. I’ve learned so much. I walk away with so many great memories."

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