Dueling Keyboards: The Case Of Mick Fanning

posted by / Blogs, WSL / April 30, 2014

Mick Fanning, extra cream.

Mick Fanning, extra cream.

Julian Wilson, so much sugar!

Julian Wilson, so much sugar!

All Photos: Jimmicane

Good surfing has always been subjective. What appeals to you might not appeal to me and what appeals to me probably doesn’t appeal to him. And that’s what makes it so fun…unless you’re a judge. ASP judging is scrutinized with every fin-throw and often times, people vehemently pick apart the ruling. One such audit: Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson’s semifinal heat at the 2014 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. In chest-high Winkipop, Mick surfed damn near as well as you could surf a wave without going above the lip. And Julian did damn near the best airs that the conditions would allow. Mick won, and you can analyze the heat here. Sure enough, arguments ensued. SURFING Magazine online editor Brendan “The White Lion“ Buckley and editor-in-chief Taylor Paul pick sides.

BRENDAN BUCKLEY: So, what do you make of that Mick Fanning VS Julian Wilson semifinal from Bells Winkipop?

TAYLOR PAUL: I think Mick earned his trip to the finals. Why, do you disagree?

BB: Earned, interesting word choice. I suppose Mick earned a trip to the final in the same way a crooked investment banker earns a living. Sure, he did something and that something served as a means to an end, but earned? No, I don’t think he earned it.

TP: His best two waves were better than Julian’s best two waves in that heat. It’s simple math and the judges added it up. The beach announcers, on the other hand, apparently forgot their calculators. But I’m curious to hear why you’re so stressed about the word “earn.” How can you suggest that his approach is corrupt? Do you have an issue with Mick’s surfing?

BB: I think Mick has learned the system and figured out how to manipulate it in his favor. He’s taught himself how to turn all the right dials, twist all the right nipples. He’s figured out how to go out every single heat and grind out a couple of 8s — and how boring is that? It’s more predictable than a 48-year-old dude buying a lime-green corvette during a midlife crisis. He walks out of that dealership and you’re like, that guy is for sure about to dye his hair blonde and bring some obscure drug like speed to Coachella. That’s the feeling I get every time Mick surfs a heat. And I actually love his surfing — he’s one of the best of all time in my book. But he is an enemy to excitement. That’s corrupt.

TP: Your problem is with the system, then. It’s not with Mick. Because you can’t blame a man for learning the system, for surfing smart. I agree that Mick is predictable, but how much worse is it when he does airs? They look awful. Mick is a brand and he built his brand off of clean, fast, powerful surfing. Mick does a few things well — like In-N-Out Burger — so you can’t expect him to try and be The Cheesecake Factory just for your entertainment.

BB: You know what, you’re right. I suppose my problem is not so much with Mick and his cloudy with an 90% chance of rail surfing and more with the system. Oh, the system. That damned system. It has to evolve. Every system does. If not, women wouldn’t be allowed to vote and slavery would still exist. That’s what’s happening here, progressive surfing is enslaved. Do you agree?

TP: I think there’s room for improvement, for sure. Because Julian was really fun to watch in that heat. Way more entertaining than Mick, but I think Mick won based on what the criteria has consistently been this year. Granted, that criteria seems to have regressed a bit to the 3-to-the-beach mentality. Maybe that’s why Pottz is so excited about guys “finishing waves” with lip kiss?

BB: Consistent, another interesting word choice. Consistent…John John gets a 10 for that air and Jordy gets a 9.93 for literally breaking a wave? Consistent as what, tartar sauce? Consistent as the color of Luke Davis’ hair? Certainly not as consistent as kevlar, or as Mick Fanning’s surfing which they hold so dearly. But hey, you know what? I learned something today. I don’t dislike Mick Fanning’s surfing, and that revelation feels good. The judges/criteria though? Take a lap, boys.

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  • Marcelo

    The thing is, good surf should not be scored higher than awesome surfing.

  • Shaun

    Who cares? The real robbery was giving the bell to Adriano over Nat Young in 2013. Even Occy knows that.

  • Jas

    I think Julian has been badly under scored a few times over the last couple of years. I can’t remember the exact heats but he’s lost and to me it’s looked like he’s smashed it. Guys like him push the envelope and do turns that other guys (lets face it) can’t do. Its tragic they aren’t rewarded. He knows it. He leaves the beach blowing up. How come the judges can’t distinguish a run-of-the-mill turn from something that is extra special. Yes surfing is subjective but these things are chalk and cheese. Take a lap judges indeed.

  • Chuch

    So sick of Mick’s twisty little dance move he puts at the end of every turn.

  • bigdick

    judges have been drunk this year i think. start scoring airs, dipshits.

  • json

    Kelly was overscored for years.. now its mick’s turn. heck, even Julian is overscored.. Gabriel is an awesome surfer.. but he didn’t surf better than Parko at Snapper. bottom line.. its not their fault. Its the judges fault.

  • Ben

    Great article. Hit the nail on the head with that last bit.

  • dyl

    i agree with everything said above. About Micks surfing and the system. They should have some sort of wow factor scale, where just consist turns into the beach or as other wise known as grinding out an 8, gets scored low in compared to some one that mixing things up on a wave. I have a feeling that I could be wrong and there is already is a system in place similar to this, but it so inconsistent.

  • Chip

    Mick is definitely not like a crooked investment banker- Bernie Madoff? Mick’s not a cheater.

    The ASP might be a little more like the crooked investment banker- they just want someone marketable for the tour when Slater is gone which is a messed up way to go about it.

    Also, what’s wrong with a 48 year old dude buying a Corvette? Maybe that was the first time he could afford one, they’re very expensive and not everyone’s rich. I agree with it being weird to bring speed to Coachella or anywhere. Its a weirdo’s drug in a bad way.

  • Felipe

    “an enemy to excitement” that is the best definition of Fanning I´ve ever read.

  • Mike t

    They all get the short end of scores sometimes….always have. I would like if they could add more or less to the overall heat score at the end.. to adjust for progressiveness…or an over all better surfed heat. Just individual wave scores added up lacks a subjective overview. Just saying….

  • SurfingKook

    Let’s put it this way. There’s two tours. Each tour includes 10 surfers and tell the surfers “Push the limits for the highest score!”:

    Tour 1: Mick, Joel, Bede, Taj, Bourez, Pattachia, Otton, Ace, Andre, and Logie

    Tour 2: Jordy, Kerr, Pupo, Julian, Nat, Wright, JJF, Medina, Kelly, and Dane

    Now rate each tour 1 thru 10. 1 = never would watch. 10 = wouldn’t miss a minute

    Me personally, I would rate Tour #1 a 0 and I would rate Tour #2 a 10.

  • Pauly Boy

    Judges have been very inconsistent this year! But, Mick beat Julian because he never went off rail while Julian pumped down the line for 30 yards telegraphing his air reverses….that isn’t very exciting to watch either. Both were ripping, Mick won, end of story.

  • Free Surfer

    Power surfing will always be relevant and scored high. Degree of difficulty is also taken into consideration. For Mick, those turns may be somewhat simple, but for everyone else they are extremely difficult. He surfed with more speed and power than Julian did in that heat. Had Julian opened up with a huge blow tail, some carves in between and finished with an air, then he would have beat Mick no questions.

    julians highest score, he did a big but pretty standard air reverse at the end.

  • CCRider

    Pauly Boy’s right.

    I like how the judges are generally scoring airs: as another move that is either well executed or or not.

    The public is still putting “the air” on a pedestal and acting like it’s some sort of incredible wizardry that should be worshipped. It would be shortsightedness to overscore an air because it looks “progressive”, which was being done over the past two years. Does it look GOOD.

    Progression is the incorporation of this new move into standard judging criteria. Jordy didn’t ride out of his last air on that controversial wave. That’s probably why he didn’t get a 10.

    Lastly, “grinding out a couple 8’s” is boring??? Wow, someone’s jaded. I love watching these guys surf. On the heat analyzers I enjoy almost every scored wave.

  • yep

    CCRider you are a “KOOK”

  • Ben

    Agree with the above sentiments: Mick is a great surfer (not, however, at any point in his life the best surfer in the world) who is getting way too heavily rewarded for his brand of surfing. It’s a shame when a three time world champ is best known for his three-to-the beach method… especially when his three to the beach can’t match Jordy’s, etc. If Mick gets multiple 9.6 scores for his waves while Jordy takes radical chances and is only scored .33 higher (for what is unequivocally superior surfing), then Mick will never change his game. Ultimately it is the judges’ fault.

  • Dirt

    Just because a type of surfing is more exciting, that doesn’t make it more skillful. I agree that Julian was more exciting to watch but Mick easy won that heat.
    Mick’s speed and precision in those types of waves is unmatched. He has an almost flawless rail, no bogs or bounces, the right turn in the right part of the wave. No other surfer in the world can do it like him. I would any day rather watch Julian, jjf, or Jordy, but excitement and skill are two separate things.
    No surfer is the best in the world at every type of surfing, but Mick is the most precise without doubt and totally deserving of his world titles.

  • Liam

    Glad you guys finally said something about this… Seems everyone else is scared to talk about it.

    Both guys rip, but the thing is, risk should be rewarded. There’s very little risk in normal rail turns. There’s some crazy rail turns (i.e. Dane and Jordy) that are extremely risky and hard to pull off without falling or digging rail. When you see those kinds of turns you know how crazy they are because your reaction is woah. Even a relatively stock air reverse is more risky then most rail turns although such turns are also boring to watch over and over just as mick’s surfing is boring to watch over and over. In order for the sport to be exciting, risk needs to be rewarded.

    Over the last several years but ESPECIALLY this year, the judging has been really bad. There was some terrible judging in last years pipe masters but this year it’s really gone haywire, almost reverting back to the 80’s. It seems like everyone is aware of it except the judges and the ASP. I think the new ASP is doing a great job, with the one glaring exception of the judging. Hopefully, they’ll actually pay attention to public sentiment and do a change up of the judging panel. The most toxic part seems to be richie porta who’s emphasis seems to be on explaining how judges are never wrong rather than being transparent and straightforward about certain situations and how they saw them.

  • FuFu

    Taj in tour 1? I don’t fink so…

  • Matt OBrien

    Finally a discussion about the FanningEffect that is plaquing proSurfing. Mick rips, got that bit outta the way, but he has to evolve. Regardless if what judges say. I feel they changed the game to suit his (& parko’s) surfing. Example: glen hall does the same turn over & over again on bigger wave (which isn’t part of criteria – porta said so himself on morning show) and scores almost a point higher thsn kelly (who got tubed & tore the crap outta wave). That is just one of many examples of tour’s “progression” going backwards. Jordy v Julian is another. Mick’s surfing is pulling surfing backwards not forwards. Which i thought was the purpose of ASP 2.0 (or is it 3.0?) Fanning needs to evolve his air game or he shouldn’t be title contendor. Again, he ripppps, but tell me if you expect anything “wow!” From him other than the inflated scores thrown way by judges (which isn’t even him, which gives hime Zero wowfactor). Thanks for having balls to bring up this topic.

  • Joe d

    Every other action sport rewards progression and degree of difficulty. Mick has 0 of both of these. If guys are pulling maneuvers that their opponent can’t pull off they win. For some reason the same is not true in surfing. Rail surfing should be rewarded if it’s exttoidanaryly powerful . Too manny world titles have been one by a forehand wrap. Shit is corny. Analyst are even saying medina surfing scaled back cuz the judging so terrible progression and degree of difficulty is not being rewarded l

  • Camile

    I agree with Jas, Julian has been robbed! Just go look at the Hurley Pro final with Taj Burrow! Even Julian knew he was robbed just look at his attitude on the beach. Most of the veterans are awarded big points for some okay surfing while the younger ones throw their best tricks out in the water for low points!