Fast, hyper-focused regularfoot pro surfer from Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia; world champion in 2007, 2009, and 2013. Fanning was born (1981) in the landlocked Sydney suburb of Penrith, raised in various parts of North Coast New South Wales, first surfed at age five, but didn't do it regularly until age 12, after his family moved to Tweed Heads, on the Queensland/New South Wales border.
Fanning placed third in the juniors division of the 1997 Australian National Titles, and two years later won the prestigious Pro Junior. In 2001 the white-blond Fanning earned a wildcard entry into the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach and won the event; he also won the World Qualifying Series to earn a slot on the 2002 world pro circuit. Fanning dedicated his Rip Curl Pro victory to his older brother Sean, also a top Queensland surfer, who was killed in a car accident in 1998.
Strong, lanky and flexible (5' 10", 150 pounds), Fanning rides by touch as much as he does rehearsed athleticism, charging into critical positions—a vertical takeoff, a deep tube, a gouging frontside hack—and trusting his reflexes and intuition to bring him back to center. "Good surfing," he said in 1999, "is all about feelings." Australia's Surfing Life magazine described Fanning in mid-2001 as "the most in-form surfer in the world right now"; a few months later, TransWorld Surf called him the "fastest surfer on earth"; he was nicknamed "White Lightning." Fanning and fellow regularfooters Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison—often labeled the "Coolangatta Kids" after the area all three call home—were regarded as Australia's hottest young surf trio since Michael Peterson, Peter Townend, and Wayne Bartholomew shot forward as a unit in the early '70s. During his debut 2002 tour, Fanning won the Billabong Pro at Jeffreys Bay, finished the year ranked #5, and was named Rookie of the Year.
Fanning tore a hamstring while surfing in 2004, and missed the second half of the season, then bounced back to take the 2005 opener at Snapper Rocks, his home break. To win his 2007 world title, Fanning cut back on his drinking (he'd been notorious for beer-fueled antics at banquets and parties; at the 2005 Surfer Poll Award he wandered onstage to heckle Kelly Slater during his acceptance speech), hired a trainer, put a new level of torque into his frontside off the top, and discovered a monomaniacal level of focus. "I got really selfish," the baritone-voiced champ told Surfing magazine. "That's part of what you gotta do to win a title. It's so fucked up." In eight of 10 contests that year, Fanning made the semis or better; he won three events.
Fanning dominated the second half of the 2009 tour, winning three out of five contests, to finish ahead of best friend Joel Parkinson, who similarly owned the first half of the season. The year ended with a clang, however. At his world title victory party, Fanning, unprovoked, verbally assaulted surf writer Chas Smith, calling him "a fucking Jew." The story was picked up by the Australian press, and Fanning was forced to issue a public apology.
Fanning's 2013 title was built on consistency. He finished in the top-five of nine of the year’s ten events, including a win at the Quiksilver Pro France. Heading into the final event of the year, the Pipe Masters, eleven-time world champ Kelly Slater was the only surfer with a chance of catching Fanning. Needing a semifinal berth to claim the title, Fanning squeaked past Yadin Nichol in the dying seconds of their quarterfinal clash, clinching his third world championship, and becoming the fifth male surfer to win at least three titles. Slater, however, won the Masters in devastating form, and because he took out three events total for the year, to Fanning's one, many observers felt that he was in fact the year's standout performer.
The biopic Fanning the Fire was released in 2002; Mick, Myself, and Eugene, the follow-up, came out in 2006. Missing, his third surf movie profile, directed by Taylor Steele, hit screens in 2013.