FINAL SALUTE: Adoring crowds show their appreciation for Mick Fanning - whose final act as a professional surfer was a testament to his skill, grit and humility - after he finished second at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
FINAL SALUTE: Adoring crowds show their appreciation for Mick Fanning - whose final act as a professional surfer was a testament to his skill, grit and humility - after he finished second at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. KELLY CESTARI WSL HANDOUT

Mick's swansong from Bells

IT WAS an eerie feeling watching the final five minutes of Mick Fanning's professional surfing career on Bells Beach.

There was an overwhelming sense of fate that Fanning would produce the 7.57 wave required for victory, even when time was as big an enemy as the lack of swell. Fanning's ability to rise to the occasion is fabled: always digging deep, always finding a way.

MASTER AND APPRENTICE: Triple World Champion Mick Fanning and Italo Ferreira of Brazil embrace after the final of the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach at Bells Beach.
MASTER AND APPRENTICE: Triple World Champion Mick Fanning and Italo Ferreira of Brazil embrace after the final of the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach at Bells Beach. ED SLOANE WSL HANDOUT

Fanning was surfing progressively better in each heat, he pulled out the first big wave of the final, and, to script, he found himself stalking one last wave with a chance for victory in front of one of the biggest crowds ever assembled at his spiritual surfing home, Bells Beach.

Fanning's journey started in 2001, where we won his first championship title at Bells. Since that defining day, he had won three more at the iconic Victorian tournament. It was where he always felt most comfortable.

"I feel like the cliffs, the history from the traditional elders, running down those stairs each and every time, it brings back so many memories... I just feel calm,” Fanning said.

And so it was with a calm resignation that Fanning embraced his opponent, Italo Ferreira, who had just done to Fanning what he had done to so many others, passing the torch to the young Brazilian.

With the partisan crowd cheering so profoundly for one of their heroes, you could tell Fanning was proud that Ferreira had maintained his will and composure in such a surreal context.

There was so much spoken of the "fairytale finish”, but Fanning could barely have done more to leave crowds with more cherished memories; witnessing a fighter - their champ - throw his last punches and damn near defy the odds and win the thing himself one last time.

They were saying goodbye to one of Australia's most loved sporting legends. A man they had just seen surf his final wave at the end of a career which has seen him survive a shark attack, the death of two brothers and a potentially career-ending injury to win three world titles and their deepest respect.

To his friends, rivals and fans, there was nothing but love.

"I love Mick. Everyone does,” said six-time women's world champion Steph Gilmore.

"Everyone is going to miss him.”

The man who made the last minute amendments to the fairytale script, Italo Ferreira, was emotional as he labelled Fanning a "hero” after the final.

"I can't believe it, winning against Mick, one of my favourite surfers I the world, that's unbelievable,” said Ferreira, whose Rip Curl Pro win was his maiden tour victory.

"I just want to say thank you Mick for everything. You're one of my heroes.”

Just moments before Fanning swam out for the final, his great mate Stephanie Gilmore survived one of the closest Rip Curl Women's Pro finals ever to win her fourth title at Bells.

QUEEN OF BELLS: Stephanie Gilmore won her fourth Rip Curl Pro Women's at Bells Beach.
QUEEN OF BELLS: Stephanie Gilmore won her fourth Rip Curl Pro Women's at Bells Beach. KELLY CESTARI

The Bells veteran had the lead and held priority over Hawaii's Tatiana Weston-Webb with under a minute to go in the final, but the 21-year-old Hawaiian was given a gift by Gilmore when the Aussie yielded priority.

In the dying stages of the final, Weston-Webb needed a 6.8 to better Gilmore's score of 14.17, and she come so close. One judge had the decision going Weston-Webb's way, but the panel awarded her a 6.57 leaving her .23 short of Gilmore's total.

The 30-year-old Gilmore said it was incredible to compete as Fanning, her great friend, was preparing for his own final.

"It was really nice actually,” Gilmore said.

"I felt like all the stressful moments I'd see Mick riding out and it felt like home.”



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