Australian Mick Fanning has won his third world surfing title with an ice-cool performance under pressure at the Pipe Masters.
Mick Fanning joined the surfing greats as a three-time world champion after doing just enough to deny the legendary Kelly Slater a 12th crown on a day of white-knuckle drama at the Pipe Masters.
The 32-year-old Gold Coast surfer followed up his titles in 2007 and 2009 by performing last-gasp heroics in the fifth round and quarter-final heats at the season-ending event in Hawaii.
It was the 15th time in 37 years an Australian has won the world championship and Fanning is now in an elite club with Slater, fellow American Tom Curren, Hawaiian Andy Irons and countryman Mark Richards, who won four successive years from 1979 to 1982, to claim three titles or more.
Buy it was a testing day for Fanning, who incredibly only scored over three in just three of the 20 waves he selected across three heats.
Slater did what he needed to do by winning the event for a seventh time, beating Hawaii’s John John Florence 16.37 to 15.90 in the final.
He needed Fanning to bow out before the semi-finals and the Australian came perilously close to losing both his fifth round and quarter-final heats.
On each occasion, Fanning produced the decisive wave with around 90 seconds to go.
Fanning shaded 2001 world champion CJ Hobgood 12.00 to 10.50 in the fifth round after scoring a 9.50 with his final wave.
In the quarter-final, Australia’s world No.32 Yadin Nicol was on the verge of ousting Fanning, who needed a 9.57 to advance to the last four.
With the clock again showing under two minutes, Fanning delivered once more, scoring a 9.70 under untold pressure.
“They were pretty much exactly the same time at the end of each heat, so I don’t know, whoever sent them, (but) thank you,” Fanning said.
Not surprisingly, Fanning had little left in the tank for his semi-final against Florence, who outscored him 18.30 to 5.00 to secure his second Triple Crown in three years.
Fanning received the trophy from his good mate and 2012 world champion Joel Parkinson, who he thanked for looking after him in a “big brother” capacity this week.
“I just had a lot of fun this year. I just tried to stay calm,” Fanning said.
“Normally I’m pretty pent up and get pretty fired up, but this year I just tried to breathe and just stay calm.”
“A couple of years ago, I was not really enjoying it.”
Slater won three events this year to Fanning’s one, but the Australian was the only contestant who finished in the top 10 of each of the 10 competitions.
Slater stressed Fanning was the most consistent surfer this year, but felt his rival’s two crucial heat-winning waves were marked a bit too generously.
“Two times in a row the freakin’ ocean just sends a perfect wave Mick’s way,” Slater said.
“I’m going to be honest, and critical, I don’t think he got he scores either time, but the waves were so good.
“Mick was the surfer of the year this year. He proved it at every event.
“He adjusted to the conditions, he never lost his patience and never lost his desire to win, and you have to have that at every event – be excited enough and focused enough to win and he was really the only guy who was ever close to doing that.”
Just missing out on the title prompted Slater to declare he would continue the amazing professional career he started way back in 1991.
“I think that pissed me off just enough to keep going,” Slater joked.
He scored 18.80 in his quarter-final and 19.63, including one perfect 10, in his semi-final win over Parkinson.