The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach could not come at a better time for Mick Fanning. The 3x World Champ has made his worst start to a competitive season since joining the Championship Tour in 2002. A 13th-place finish at his home break of Snapper Rocks was followed by a 25th at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro. There, a last-minute defeat to Kanoa Igarashi in Round Two saw the usually composed Fanning stomp his board in a rare public show of frustration. He was clearly desperate to succeed, but left Western Australia in 22nd place on the rankings.
In terms of righting the ship, history shows Mick has a better chance of success at Bells than anywhere else on Tour. Only he and the legendary Mark Richards (who won four World Titles) have four Bells trophies, with Mick's last three coming since 2012. He has also made the Final five times in the last seven years and has a heat win ratio that hovers around 80 percent.
No other surfer in the event comes close to having Mick's consistency at the Rip Curl Pro, and it's only the great Kelly Slater who has more wins at individual Tour locations. Slater's tally of seven wins at Pipeline and five each at Teahupo'o and Fiji is remarkable, but in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean, it is Fanning who reigns supreme. So dominant is his Bells record, he demands to be the favorite every time he walks down those wooden stairs in a contest singlet.
"I've been going to Bells since I was a grom and have a second family down there," Mick told the WSL. "There is nothing I don't know about the wave, or the town. The most important aspect for me is that I've always enjoyed my time there and always will. It's just a special place for me." So strong is its hold on Fanning, he has publicly stated that when the time comes to retire, he will do so at Bells.
His results in Victoria have proved pivotal at various stages of his career. It was here that Fanning first burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old Wildcard in 2001. Over that sunny Easter weekend, in flawless Bells Bowl, he won the event, earned his nickname White Lightening and alerted the surfing world that it had a once-in-a-generation talent.
Sixteen years on, with multiple World Titles and having overcome myriad personal and professional obstacles, Mick might be excused for thinking that he has nothing left to prove. That, however, would be to ignore how Mick operates. After his sabbatical last year, he is as determined to succeed as at any stage in his career. His poor start to the season won't have changed that. If anything, he'll be more hungry and more determined. Back at the Bells Bowl, you'd always back Fanning to succeed no matter what the circumstance.