Hero is a term we use a lot in sport. Not always deservingly. But today it is.
Of all the places to find a role model for young men – someone oozing pride, humility, vulnerability and exceptional courage, professional surfing wasn’t the first place I would have looked. Or the second. Nothing against pro surfers, of course. It’s what we all wanted to be from the age of twelve after getting our first boards from the Trading Post and Crystal Cylinders t-shirts from my grandparents.
It’s just that, from the outside anyway, the whole surfing thing doesn’t seem to be about spiritual, beautiful men in touch with their emotions. I mean, surfing’s certainly spiritual, and often beautiful, but there seems to be a certain bravado around the sport as well. “Surf thirty foot waves? Fully sic, Bra! Epic and all that, eh!”
So to see the reaction from Mick Fanning after his shark attack at J Bay was almost as surprising as it was to see a shark turn up behind him and grab hold of his legrope.
WATCH the moment Mick Fanning escaped a shark attack:
I was certainly surprised by his reaction, but mainly in that I expected he’d have a far more larriken-esque response to what happened. Why? No idea really. It’s a stereotype, isn’t it? Not just of surfers, but of lots of sports people. The expectation is that they’ll walk (or swim) away from combat and trot out the old, well worn clichés about what’d just happened. How the boys had done a good job and we wouldn’t have been in a position to win if everyone hadn’t pulled together. Boys, did good, you know. And all that! Good boys. Love the boys. The boys really smashed it.
But Fanning was different.
While he certainly thanked the boys (Julian Wilson and the water patrol) for doing a great job, and gave Wilson credit for being a superhero, he did it in a way that rang true.
Maybe it was because he was going against the stereotypical type, that whilst we expect our sportsmen to be strong and matey, it’s surprising to seem them so vulnerable. Other athletes have hugged and shed tears and recounted their triumphant moments, and yes, he had just escaped the jaws of nature’s most impressive predator, but Fanning managed to share his story in a normal, ‘here’s what happened’ kind of way.
“I was ready, I was calm, we were there for the final. The last thing on my mind was a shark.
“I felt like I was just about to start moving and I felt something, a presence of something behind me. I just jumped on my board.
“It came up and went for the tail of my board. I don’t know why it didn’t bite. It kept coming back. I was trying to put my board between us.
Watch Mick Fanning’s press conference here. (Post continues below)
“As the wave went, my board was off and I was trying to get to it. Then it came back again, I tried to position myself to the side of it. That’s when I punched it, I just went into fight or flight.”
And it was the tears with Julian Wilson, the hug, the lucky to be alive aspect of what they’d both been through. The fact that Fanning is Wilson’s mentor, that Wilson paddled toward him instead of paddling away, even though Mick had told him to get out of the water. It’s a great story, one that we can be proud of, and not just because a three time world champion escaped the jaws of a great white, but because the story being told is one of mateship and humility – and a three time world champion escaping death.
He wasn’t a dickhead about it: that’s the thing.
He wasn’t a smartarse, he wasn’t trite and he wasn’t making jokes. Mick Fanning spoke eloquently about an experience that will surely change his life.
How the internet responded to Mick Fanning’s shark attack. Post continues below.
His class and emotional intelligence will stand as a reminder to the rest of us who tend to make jokes about the big things in our lives that sometimes it’s okay to tell it like it is – not how we think people will expect the story to be.
If you’d like to hear more from Andrew Daddo (and Mamamia editor Holly Wainwright), check out Mamamia’s parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess.