Back on top: Mick Fanning celebrates victory in South Africa. Photo: WSL/Kirstin Scholtz.Mick Fanning has capped an extraordinary return to the scene of last year’s shark attack, winning the World Surfing League event at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
Fanning fought off what was believed to be a great white shark in the disbanded contest final of 2015, eventually fleeing the water uninjured with fellow Australian Julian Wilson.
On Saturday Fanning beat Hawaiian John John Florence in the final after taking out good friend Wilson in the semi-final.
In variable small swell, which saw the contest drag into its 11th day, Fanning beat Florence 17.70 points to 17.13.
Florence had beaten another Australian, Josh Kerr in the other semi-final.
An almost zen-like calm enveloped Fanning after the decider, the 35 year-old speaking in relaxed tones of his relationship with Wilson.
“He’s just one of those guys that always has your back,” Fanning said of Wilson, who came to his aid when the shark began to circle the three-time world champion.
As for winning in such emotional circumstances, Fanning said he’d made an early call to come back to J-Bay and was always going to stick by it.
“That was always the intention to come back – to right the wrongs of last year,” he said.
“Now we have, we can move on.
“It just feels a lot lighter not going for the world title and not having that pressure on.”
Fanning, on a reduced schedule this year after a difficult 12 months that included the shark attack, death of his brother and break-up of his marriage – overcame even more complications on the eve of the round six event after hurting his ankle while free-surfing.
Despite the win, he confirmed he would only surf one more event this season.
“I’ve already said I’ll go to Trestles (California) and that will be my last event of the year,” he said.
“World titles aren’t the biggest thing for me any more.”
Fanning, who went from 16th to fifth in the world rankings with the victory, was watched from the shore by his mother, Elizabeth Osborne.
Australian Matt Wilkinson still leads the men’s standings after six events.