Mick Fanning is the undisputed curl king, one of the world’s greatest surfing champions. His 17-year career saw him win the 2001 Rip Curl Pro after entering as a wildcard, famously fight off a shark in 2015 in South Africa and overcome multiple injuries – one career-threatening. He’s won three world titles, completed 16 World Tour seasons and been awarded the Order of Australia for his contribution to the sport. He’s also pretty well known as an all round lovely bloke.
In February 2018 Fanning stepped away from the professional surfing circuit, but he continues to work with surf organisations and to foster young talent. He now co-owns Balter, a brewery based in Currumbin, Queensland (which just released Captain Sensible, a low-ABV brew). And he still enjoys a surf outside of the competitive circuit.
“Surfing became a serious and competitive thing in my life, but always at the heart of it was my love for the sport and the enjoyment I got out of it,” he says.
If you’re hitting the waves for the very first time, Fanning recommends going to a local surf school and learning from certified coaches.
“They’ll give you great advice on getting to your feet but also warn you of any dangers to watch out for,” he says. “Many surf schools start you off on the sand … because it gets you familiar with lying on the board, balancing, pushing up on it and so on. It's a good way to get comfortable.”
After a session or two with the pros, here’s everything you need to know to get off the sand solo.
“The great thing about surfing is you don’t need a whole lot to get involved, and generally the items you need will last you a long time,” says Fanning. “If you’re a beginner a foam board is a great place to start. My MF Softboards range has great options, from larger beginner crafts to shorter high-performance boards for intermediate surfers.”
If you’re in cold water, a wetsuit will come in handy. Fanning reckons Rip Curl makes the best on the market.
“Other than that, a block of Sex Wax will stop you slipping off your board, and a Creatures Of Leisure leg rope will keep you connected. The only other really important thing you need is good sunscreen. I use Vertra.”
Get yourself a beach
“Australia is a great country to learn to surf because so much of our coastline has sand-bottom beaches,” Fanning says. “Some beaches are better for learning than others and you should always ask a lifeguard in the area where the best beach for beginners is.”
He suggests heading to Torquay and Phillip Island in Victoria; Kingscliff Beach, Byron Bay or Coolangatta in New South Wales; Noosa Heads in Queensland; Middleton Beach or the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia; and Scarborough, or around Margaret River if you're getting a bit more confident, in Western Australia. Then ask around to find the best beach in the area on any given day.
“Unless you're really confident, I'd advise against surfing alone,” Fanning says. “Bring a more experienced mate with you if you're learning. Not only will they be able to give you pointers and help you get a feel for surfing, they’ll know what to look for in getting on a wave, and keep an eye out for you while you concentrate on getting comfortable on your board.”
Find your wave
“Start by looking to catch the whitewash (when the wave has already broken and is white/foamy) or as it curls (arching up and about to break),” Fanning says. “Start to paddle ahead of the wave catching up with you, and if you need, keep paddling as the wave picks you up – you'll feel the push of the current.”
Once you've caught the wave, push up to stand. Once you’re up, try and keep your balance while steering the board across the wave. If you lose your balance, don’t panic – you're only falling into water.
“Remember, no wave is ever the same,” Fanning adds. “So just because you had a great session yesterday doesn't mean today will be the same. It's one of the things I've learned to love most about surfing.”
Beware of certain waves
“Avoid hollow dumping waves. You want a nice gentle spilling wave that isn’t tubing when you’re learning. You also want a longer ride so you can get the sensation of riding a wave, and practise turning.”
Once you have confidence in your technique and feel comfortable, you can start taking on bigger waves. “It’s a personal decision,” says Fanning. “Progressing is about challenging yourself – but know your limits and don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. Trust your instincts.”
Beware of other things in the ocean
“Rips and strong currents can be dangerous, particularly if you're not a strong swimmer, so be careful and keep an eye [out] when you’re learning.”