Fanning battles back to keep Bells dream alive
SURF icon Mick Fanning has edged closer to a fairytale finish to his career with another win at an event which has already delivered him four magic moments.
The three-time world champion paddled out for what could have been his final competitive heat on a chilly morning at a venue which has played host to some of his greatest moments.
Fanning has won four Rip Curl Pro crowns at Bells Beach - his first as a teenage wildcard in 2001 - and on Tuesday his bid for a fifth continued to gain momentum as he reached the quarter-finals.
Fanning came from behind to win his thrilling three-man heat against American Pat Gudauskas and Matt Wilkinson, surfed at Winkipop, to advance.
Also still alive is the slim chance of Fanning ending his extraordinary 16-year world tour career with the world No.1 ranking.
But win or lose, the 36-year-old says he is looking forward to life after the world tour.
"I can't wait to wake up to no schedule," he said when asked what he was most looking forward to post retirement.
"I'm really excited to move forward. I have the luxury of choice."
While Fanning will surf, searching for "special moments" around the globe, he will not compete again after this event.
After world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2013, 20-plus world tour victories and one of the most impressive records in the game, he says the hunger for one-on-one heat combat has gone.
"I feel like I've just lost the drive to compete day in day out now," Fanning said when he announced his retirement plans last month.
"It's been something I've been doing for 16 years, and even before that through QS (qualification series ) and juniors, and I feel that I just can't give it 100 per cent anymore.
"I'm just not enjoying it as much as I was in the past. I still love surfing, and I'm still super excited by it, but I feel that's there's other paths for me to take at this stage in my life."
Early on Tuesday, Fanning's oldest mate on the world tour, Joel Parkinson, was beaten in round three along with fellow Aussie Ace Buchan.
Parkinson was taken down by Brazilian Frederick Morais with American world champion John Florence and Brazilian former world champion Adriano de Souza also sent to the sand in major upsets.
These wipeouts follow on from Australian world No.1 Julian Wilson's loss on Monday.
Fanning's post competitive career will include him being an Australian selector ahead of surfing' Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Parkinson is also expected to have some involvement with the Australian team as it chases historic gold medals in the new Olympic sport.