The Banzai Drop-In

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Mick burns John JohnMick Fanning burns John John Florence.

Tomorrow, Mick Fanning will surf against CJ Hobgood in massive waves at the Billabong Pipeline Masters. If he defeats Clifton James, Mick will then surf against Yadin Nicol. And if he defeats Yadin, Mick will clinch his third ASP World Title. The bottle of champagne drips with condensation.

One of the most significant moments of Mick’s year came at the business end of his Round 4 spar with Nat Young and John John Florence. It was a no-losers heat, in which 1st place goes straight to Quarterfinals and 2nd and 3rd head to to Round 5. To state the obvious, Mick paddled out with intentions to win the heat — but John John’s 16.37 points got in the way of that. With 21 seconds left, John held priority as a decent Pipe wave approached. He hooked into it, grabbed rail and set up for his umpteenth barrel. Then Mick dropped in on him.

It was uncharacteristic for a man of such poise. Mick hasn’t been slapped with an interference all year — and he gets one on John John, at Pipe? Was it an act of desperation, hoping that John John was going right? Cute theory, but we think not.

If Mick had placed second in that heat, his title-deciding draw would have looked a whole lot different. He’d have been against Julian Wilson in Round 5 and, gasp, John John Florence in the Quarters. Mick knew exactly what he was doing when he burnt. And it was a decision that everyone can agree with. Surfing against John John at 10-foot Pipe to decide a world title? No, thank you. Still, CJ is a warhorse at Pipe and Yadin lacks the cerebral function that tells him not to go on waves that can kill him. Mick’s road ain’t easy, just easier.

The swell’s coming in hot, and tomorrow is setting up to be the best day of surfing of the year. It will be a mad mix of boldness, skill, karma and luck. Will Mick’s decision pay off? —Brendan Buckley