Mick, when did you really start to sense that you were getting close to the end of your career?
I probably started having feelings about it through 2013/14 and definitely had them more in 2015. I always felt like there were times when I could have just walked away and been happy. By the end of 2015 I was just exhausted; I’d been in the Title race for three years in a row and obviously had some things pop up that year that took a toll on the old energy levels. But deciding to take six months off wasn’t a knee jerk reaction – it was a really scary decision, and it took me a lot of time and courage to be ok with doing that.
But it really paid off. Once I started going and doing these different trips, exploring different parts of what surfing means to me, I found that other side of it much more enjoyable and a lot more fulfilling. It made me really want to go and keep chasing that. But I was then also fighting with thoughts of ‘Did I go too early, or have I left it too late’. I was talking to Parko a bit at the end of 2016 and he kept telling me to come back, and it got me fired up again. However, very early on in the piece in 2017, I knew that the Tour wasn’t for me anymore.
You’d made the decision that 2017 was going to be your last full year, but Pipeline wasn’t where you were going to announce or surf your last event. What was the thinking behind that decision?
I’ve always had in mind that my last event on Tour was going to be Bells. That’s basically where I started my career, it was my first ever CT win and I feel really comfortable down there. Obviously home is amazing, but I always feel a lot more pressure there – whereas at Bells I can get away a little bit more, keep my brain clearer. Bells is just the place I feel really connected, and being the home of Rip Curl is a big part of it too.
Are you getting butterflies about surfing these last two events?
No, not at all really! Going through my whole career there would be those anxious feelings that would come up, but to be truly honest, in 2017, that just didn’t happen. I’d just wake up and go surf, and if my board wasn’t 100 per cent, it didn’t really freak me out. I went through last year knowing that it was going to be my last year surfing at each of the spots, so feel I’ve been through a lot of those feelings already. Being at home it might be different, I don’t know, but I’m just going to concentrate on my surfing and enjoying the moment while I can.
So many amazing achievements in a career that’s spanned close to 20 years. What’s the one thing you’re most proud of?
For me, it was all about dedication and just giving it my all. I wanted to make sure I gave it everything, so when I put my head on the pillow at night I had no regrets. World Titles and event wins were all incredible, but probably the biggest thing that resonated with me was in 2015 when I came in from a quarterfinal heat against Kelly and all my best friends and family were there. In surfing I’d already won everything, but in that moment I felt like I’d really won in life, and that was really special.
What’s the biggest heat you have been part of?
There’s been so many! Ones to win World Titles, ones to win events, but I think the pinnacle of them all was the one with John John and Kelly. It was amazing and the waves were absolutely firing, and for me, I was the underdog paddling out. We all ended up getting some really good waves and somehow I ended up on top. To surf against the guy I’d always looked up to and always wanting to beat, to then beat him and also beat the guy who is arguably the best surfer in the world right now, in those conditions, that was a really big goal that I kicked.
What about the heat at Pipeline, back in 2015, when the World Title was on the line – and you had just learned of your brothers passing. There was so much emotion, and it was big, scary Pipe. Have you ever surfed a harder heat than that?
Learning that my brother had passed away earlier in that morning, all the pressure of what mattered for this heat or that heat just went out the window and it became just about going out surfing. For that day, I just had this confidence over myself where it didn’t matter what was going to happen, it didn’t matter which wave was going to come in, I just had that much confidence in myself and knew that he’d be looking after me, so I just went! On a normal day I would have been pooping in my pants, but on that day I think I was the calmest I’ve ever competed; I just knew that waves were going to come, I had confidence in my ability to just go and knew that whatever happened, he’d be looking out for me.
Looking back on 16 years on Tour… throughout all of those years, who was your greatest rival?
Coming on Tour as a cheeky 19 year old, I was lucky enough to be able to jump on Tour with some of my best friends – Joel Parkinson, Dean Morrison and Nathan Hedge. Being a bit cheeky, or being a brat actually, I just wanted to beat everyone!
I remember my first time surfing my first heat at Teahupo’o against Kelly, I paddled for a wave, missed it, then paddled over one and saw him swinging. Any other day of the week I wouldn’t have gone, but because Kelly was there I was like ‘Stuff this, I’m going!’ It was the scariest three point ride of my life, but for me, I just had this thing against Kelly; it wasn’t personal, it was more that I just wanted to test myself against the best.
Kelly was always a huge one – early in my career we went back and forth a bit, and then he just went on this streak for a while where he just absolutely destroyed me, and I was just scratching my head trying to figure out how to beat him.
Then towards the end of my career, especially last year, I got to surf against him three or four times, and to have that rivalry even though we’re both old as dirt was great – he was a guy I got really motivated to surf against.
Andy Irons was another one; he was a guy I could never beat really. Every time you thought you had him, he’d just come back and absolutely destroy you; his will and desire to win was second-to-none, I thought.
But probably my biggest rivalry, and the person I put so much emotion and preparation into, was Parko. Ever since we were 13 we were competing against each other in junior comps, then State Titles and Aussie Titles. he was the guy that I always wanted to beat so badly. Still to this day, if we’re in a heat together, I want to beat him so, so bad!
What are you most looking forward to about life away from the tour?
The biggest thing for me, leaving the Tour, is re-learning. I had a conversation with John John recently and he said ‘Are you scared?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but it’s just one of those things.’ It’s like when you first go on Tour, your world opens up and you get to learn and re-learn everything again. Everything’s new and exciting.
I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen; all I know is that I’m going to go surfing, I’m going on the Search, and I’m going to try and find amazing waves. But I’m also going to be learning about myself, because instead of having a timeline dictating where I have to be all year, I have to create one for myself. I have to create those moments to stay in shape, or be focused on different things in life – and that, to me, is truly exciting.
As a competitor, how would you like to be remembered?
I guess I just wanted to give it my all; I never wanted to leave anything unturned. People sit there and they talk about my focus and all that sort of stuff, but for me, it was more just preparation. I wasn’t the most talented surfer compared to other people, but I knew what I had to do to get myself to a performance level to compete against the best people in the world. Maybe that’s it, that I’ve always given it my all. If that’s the way that I get remembered, that’s great.
But another thing that’s been important to me is that I always wanted to be a good sportsman. Sportsmanship was always a big thing for me. I remember as a kid, about 13, I surfed pretty badly and I lost a heat. I was throwing my board, carrying on like a little muppet and my mum just smacked me over the head and she goes, ‘If you ever carry on like that, ever again, I’m never bringing you to the beach again.’ From that moment on, I made a point of shaking hands with my competitors, and just being honest. Play by the rules. I just always wanted to show good sportsmanship.
In 2017, your last full year on the Championship Tour, you drifted out of Title contention, but obviously had a great seat to watch the title races unfold. What are your thoughts on the current state of professional surfing?
In 2017 I got to have a front row seat and be the best fan in the world. It was incredible. The current state of surfing right now is beyond our beliefs, starting from where the Tour was 17 years ago to where it is now. It’s gone through the roof. You’ve got guys like John John Florence, Filipe Toledo and Gabriel Medina that do things that if you said that was going to happen 20 years ago, everybody would have been like ‘get off the drugs bro’. I was lucky enough to be front row seat for Julian Wilson winning Tahiti, and that was a huge highlight for me in 2017. The WSL have done an incredible job in creating a Tour that’s extremely professional and one of the best organisations on earth, and I’m really excited to see where it’s going to go next – but I probably will never try any of the moves they’re doing, because I like my knees and ankles! Even though I’m not going to be on Tour, I’m still going to watch the heats that I want to watch, and watch the surfers I that I want to watch. I’ll still be a #1 fan.
We’ve talked a lot about big heats and special moments – but let’s sum it up. You’ve won three World Titles, won 22 events on Tour and circled the globe, full-time, for 16 years. Was it as incredible as it sounds?
It’s been so fun. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure – you have your peaks and valleys – but when I look back on my time on Tour, it’s the amazing memories that matter the most – from building myself up to compete, to heat wins and event wins, celebrating with friends and just seeing places I never thought I’d even get to. I didn’t even get on a plane until I was 13, and it was just a charter plane because I was complaining so much that I’d never been on a plane before! Now I can’t get off of them.
So many amazing memories, from so many amazing places, with people that I truly cherish. That’s the thing I’ll take away. It’s those memories that will last forever. Over a beer or two here and there they’ll always pop up, and those stories will always keep a smile on my face.
Congratulations Mick. What a career. #CheersMick