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Gilmore backs Fanning to return

SPOTLIGHT: Stephanie Gilmore with her fans at Merewether on Thursday.
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STEPHANIE Gilmore knows well the demands on a multiple world champion and believes Mick Fanning will come back a better surfer after taking a break from them.

Three-time world champion Fanning announced on Thursday he was having a “personal year” and would compete onlypart-time. It comes after a year in whichFanning narrowly escaped a shark attack, mourned the death of his brother and separated from his wife.

Gilmore, a six-time world champion, missed most of last year’s top tourbecause of injury and is making her comeback at Surfest. She also overcame a brutal assault in 2010 and believes Fanning can bounce back.

“Mick had one of the most radical years probably ever last year, and for him to come out from that even stronger,it’s a real testament to his character,” Gilmore said. “He’s been on tour for many years, so he probably wants to take a bit of time to relax.He’ll probably come back much more inspired and surfing even better.

“I’m happy for him.”

She said her injury-enforced break had made her hungry for more success.

“I had that last year. I had a good break, and it feels good,” she said.

“It gets you excited. I don’t know if Mick’s going to feel like it, but Imissedcompeting, and I’m excited to get back into it.”

She said the demands on multipleworld champions were “full on”.

“The more you win, the more work you have to do,” she said.

“It’s all part of it, though, and Mick’s always been such a great ambassador in that sense.

“He’s always got something going on and he works hard, so for that reason, he probably decided he needs a little break, and this will be good for him to absorb everything that’s happened over the last year.

“He’s great. I really like Mick. As long as he’s happy, that’s the main thing.”

Read the WSL’s press release on Fanning’s decision below:

Mick Fanning (AUS), 3x WSL Champion and 2015 World Runner-Up, today announced that he is viewing 2016 as a ‘personal year’ in which he will take time off from full-time competition.

The Australian sporting icon endured an intense 2015 in which he was thrust into the international spotlight following an on-air battle with a Great White Shark during July’s J-Bay Open. Despite the incident, Fanning rallied to battle for the WSL Title throughout the back half of the season, pushing the race to the final event of the year. Suffering the tragic and unexpected loss of older brother Peter during the event window, Fanning’s performance at Pipeline was emotionally charged, but ultimately short of the world surfing crown.

“Last year was definitely intense – what happened at J-Bay, being in a title race and the unfortunate passing of my brother,” Fanning said. “There was so much build up with everything happening. I got to a point at the end of the year where I felt empty. I didn’t feel like I had much to give back.”

“This year, I’m going to take some time off and have a bit of a personal year,” Fanning continued. “Just to regroup and re-stoke the fire. At this stage, I’m going to compete at Snapper and I’m going to compete at Bells and then I’m going to take some time off from there. They (Snapper and Bells) are two events that I love and I’d go crazy if I were sitting at home and couldn’t go surf Snapper. Bells is like a second home as well. From then on, I feel like I have to take some time away from the tour to get out of that sort of zone to see where my head is at.”

The decision to surf in select events in 2016 came after lengthy discussion with family, friends, sponsors and the WSL.

“When I first came to this decision, I rang up Kieren (Perrow) and Paul Speaker and gave them an idea of what I was thinking and seeing if it was okay with them,” Fanning said. “Between those two and the whole WSL being supportive, it’s been really incredible. Even last year, with all the things happening, they were the first people that would reach out to support and make sure everything was okay. I’m really thankful that they’re giving me this opportunity to be selective with events and see where I’m at.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of accomplished people across a variety of mediums and Mick Fanning is certainly one of the most inspiring,” Paul Speaker, WSL CEO, said. “His class and character, even in the face of multiple scenarios that would undo most people, are tremendous. He is a truly special person and we’re here to support him in whatever way we can.”

The shark incident at Jeffreys Bay in July became a top international news story, vaulting Fanning into a level of public recognition never before seen in the sport. While his 2016 season remains in flux, Fanning has indicated plans to return to Jeffreys Bay this year.

“I want to go back to J-Bay,” Fanning said. “I feel like there’s something there that I want to go and face. I want to make sure that I scratch that off the list. I think the main thing will be that first surf. I probably won’t be getting up at dark and getting out there before the sun gets up anymore. I think it’s more about jumping in and surfing once or twice and then I’ll be fine. It’s the same thing as when I came back and surfed Snapper for the first time. You’re a little bit wary and it’s in the back of your mind, but you get to a point where you start to feel comfortable again. If I go and do that event, there are going to be a lot of eyes on me. A lot of people will be seeing what reaction I’ll have. I don’t think I’ll be paddling out early for heats, but I think after a surf or two, I’ll feel fine.”

A 15-year veteran of the elite WSL Championship Tour, Fanning has amassed an impressive 21 event wins and three world titles.

“Mick Fanning is one of the most committed and inspiring figures our sport has been fortunate enough to have,” Kieren Perrow, WSL Commissioner, said. “He’s been up front and open about his feelings following the 2015 season and the Commissioner’s Office wholeheartedly supports him taking time for himself this year. We look forward to seeing him at the opening event on the Gold Coast and at select events throughout the year.”

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