Three-time world surfing champion Mick Fanning, who made global headlines after fighting off a shark on live television, narrowly missed a fairytale ending to his career Thursday when he lost in the final of his last event.
The Australian, 36, announced last month he was retiring from the sport after 17 years and was seeking to sign off with a record fifth Pro Bells Beach title and his 23rd world tour win.
In a tense morning, he reached the final of the event in the Australian state of Victoria but lost to 23-year-old Brazilian Italo Ferreira.
“It’s really special, I always wanted to finish here at Bells just because I felt calmer,” Fanning told organisers of the World Surf League after coming in second place.
“It’s a very special moment with the crowd, all my best friends are here and then to be out in the final with Italo and just see how much it meant to him… it sort of made me feel better.
“It’s been an amazing career and I want to thank everyone along the way.”
Stephanie Gilmore, 30, another Australian surfing icon, earlier beat Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb to win the women’s title.
Bells Beach holds special significance for Fanning, who began his competitive career there in 2001 as a teenage wildcard.
He went on to become world champion in 2007, 2009 and 2013 and forged one of surfing’s most well-known rivalries with American Kelly Slater.
The Australian made global headlines in 2015 when he survived a shark attack — captured on live television — during the J-Bay Open in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
It was a tumultuous year for Fanning, who also had to deal with his brother’s death and a marriage break-up, and he competed sporadically in 2016.
Fanning said last month he still loved surfing but needed a “fresh challenge”.
“I still love the game but can’t find the motivation and dedication required to compete for world titles anymore. I’m just not enjoying it as much as I was in the past,” he wrote on Instagram.
Sydney, Australia | AFP