Mick Fanning is to make another return to professional surfing four years after announcing his retirement from the sport with the three-times world champion awarded a wildcard for the upcoming Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event – the Australian’s favourite stop on the WSL tour.
Fanning, 40, called time on his career in 2018 after 17 years on the tour, saying he had lost the drive to compete “day in, day out”. He made a brief return to the pro tour at last season’s Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic and will again get back in the water for the event in Victoria – the longest-running surfing event in the world – from 10 to 20 April.
“Bells is the wildcard I really wanted,” Fanning said. “Obviously, I did Narrabeen last year but Bells is the one I was really aiming for. It’s a place that is really close to my heart, and if I was ever going to take a wildcard, it would be there, so I’m pretty fired up.”
During his career, Fanning won at Bells Beach four times, putting him on level pegging with surf greats Kelly Slater and Mark Richards. No man has won more than that trio, although Gail Couper rang the bell 10 times across the women’s amateur and professional eras in the 1960s and 70s. Stephanie Gilmore and Lisa Andersen have also won four titles at the iconic break.
“Personally, I really like the wave at Bells,” Fanning said. “The speed of it, the wide open canvas, and the fact that it is a right hand point break. I love everything that comes with Bells, the history, the cliffs, the gathering of everyone down in the car park. It’s so awesome. It’s something that sits in my heart.”
Fanning was knocked out by the Brazilian Italo Ferreira in the round of 32 the last time he made a return to the tour in Narrabeen, but ahead of Bells – where he missed out on a fairytale ending to his career in April in 2018 – he says he has what it takes to compete with the next generation of surfers.
“During my career I got close [to winning a fifth], but right now I just want to focus on putting on a good performance,” Fanning said. “My preparation when I was on tour was non-stop training but this time around I’ve just been focusing on my surfing and making sure it’s up to the level of the best in the world.”
During his career, Fanning claimed 22 tour wins, 11 top-five finishes and three world titles. He now has a chance to add a 23rd title after being granted one of five wild-card entries for Bells.
He joins compatriot Mikey Wright, who will return to the tour for the first time since announcing an indefinite break from surfing following last year’s Corona Open Mexico as an injury replacement for Liam O’Brien.
World No 6 Caio Ibelli, Barron Mamiya and Matthew McGillivray complete the wild card lineup in the men’s competition, with Gabriel Medina, Yago Dora and Carlos Munoz out injured. In the women’s competition, Bronte Macaulay will replace Caroline Marks, who has withdrawn due to medical reasons.
Earlier this month, Fanning and fellow surfing champion, Joel Parkinson, made headlines after helping NSW communities impacted by the floods by ferrying stranded residents and distributing supplies to people badly affected at Tumbulgum on the north coast.