As 2016 comes to a close, those in the surfing world are speculating whether an era is over.
In a recent podcast interview with Mark Occhilupo, Mick Fanning – A.K.A White Lightning – left fans pondering whether the three-time world champion would be returning to the WSL next year.
“All I know for sure is I’ll be surfing Snapper and Bells,” Fanning said.
“It’s my dream to retire at Bells. I’m not sure if it will be this year or when I’m 50, but I really want to end my career there.”
After a tumultuous 2015, Fanning announced his withdrawal from this year’s tour, only entering selected events. He secured a 13th at Snapper and Trestles, a third at Bells, a fifth in Fiji and a heroic first place at J-Bay to finish the year in 17th, securing his spot on the 2017 tour.
Fanning may have ditched the jersey for the past year, but he remained firmly in the spotlight – possibly more so than any other year.
Following his 2015 J-Bay encounter with a great white shark, Australia’s most famous surfing identity became the front man on the main world stage with media outlets worldwide broadcasting the incident.
Despite the tangle with the shark, Fanning continued the chase for his fourth World title, coming in as runner-up following the Pipemasters event, where only hours before he learnt of his elder brother’s death.
Claiming 2016 as a personal year, Fanning modelled business suits, camped in Alaska, launched a brewery with fellow surfing mates Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr; and, if his interviews throughout the year are anything to go by, drank a lot of beer while deflecting 2017 tour questions.
With three months until the first event of 2017, Fanning remains tight-lipped regarding his plans.
“I wish I could tell you but I really don’t know. I could probably tell you in February or something,” he told Occhilupo.
Fanning has been on the professional circuit for 14 years, famous for his speed and hailed as the fastest transitional surfer; he won the world title in 2007, 2009 and 2013.
A fourth world title win would have seen Fanning equal the Australian record, set by four-time world champion Mark Richards from 1979 to 1982.
But when questioned by Occhilupo, Fanning showed no interest in pursuing the title he once chased down.
“At this stage, I don’t care much about world titles,” he said.
“Right now, I’m having so much fun showing up to places with no schedule and seeing what’s next.”
Fanning recently hit the headlines again this week after surfing under the Northern Lights in the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten, Norway.
Two years in the making, Fanning and photographers Emil Sollie and Mats Grimsaeth set out for a 10-day camping trip in the hope the elements would align.
Luckily for the trio, nature was on their side when everything came together on night three, resulting in the once in a lifetime imagery.
“We’d set out a 10-day waiting period because there were so many elements that had to come together,” Fanning told the ABC.
“Even then it was a bit of a roll of the dice. You need the right waves, clear skies and on top of all that, you actually need the lights to come on.
“But on the third night we got lucky.”
If that wasn’t enough variety for 2016, Fanning also surfed tsunami waves in Alaska in August.
Is there anything Aussie Mick can’t do?!