Professional surfing may have a new king. Mick Fanning became the fifth surfer ever to clinch his third World Championship Tour title, just edging out 11-time champ Kelly Slater on the 2013 tour’s last day.
The 32-year-old Aussie snatched a third place finish in the fifth round of the Billabong Pipe Masters on Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline, good enough to bring his cumulative point total just above Slater’s for the year. Fanning previously won the title in 2007 and 2009.
“I’ve never put myself in the same circles as [three-time champs] Tom Curren and Andy Irons,” Fanning said. “Tom [Curren] is such an enigma and was so instrumental to injecting style into our sport. Andy [Irons]…what hasn’t been said about Andy? He was such a legend and he was such a good friend. I’m honored to be a part of this group. I was happy with one title and I was overwhelmed with two. With three? I don’t have words for that.”
Slater, 41, beat out surfing wunderkind John John Florence, 21, to win the Pipe Masters in a nail-biter of a final round that saw the two separated by only half a point. In order to for Slater to win the overall title, though, Fanning would have also had to place below third in the tour’s final event.
Addressing speculation that his second-place tour finish might prompt his retirement, Slater was emphatic about his intention to keep competing.
“Last year, someone asked me what excited me in the end years of my career and I said I would like to surf a final at Pipe against John John [Florence], so that’s pretty special today,” Slater said. “To win is even better. I want to surf against the best surfers at the best waves—that’s why I’m on tour. I was obviously emotional today, especially after Mick [Fanning] clinched the title in the [quarter finals]. I don’t know what happens for me in 2014 but I think that has pissed me off just enough to come back.”
The debate over who had the better year is another matter.
As Stab Magazine has pointed out, Fanning’s title came as the result of an arcane points system that leaves out a lot of the story.
Both Fanning and Slater competed in 10 events this year, and Slater won three events to Fanning’s one, the Quiksilver Pro France. Slater also had more prize money, a higher average wave score, higher average heat score, six perfect waves to Fanning’s one, and more excellent waves (scored 8 to 10) than Fanning.
The new season kicks off March 1 at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.