Adrenaline rush

Snowboarding maverick Scotty James in conversation with world surfing champ Mick Fanning
By Alex James Taylor | 27 December 2022
Photographer Michael Avedon


Australian snowboarder Scotty James is known for his insane technical ability, singular style, and signature red knock-out gloves. A superstar of his sport, James made his Olympic debut at fifteen years old, becoming the youngest male athlete to compete at the Winter Games in over 50 years. He has since claimed Olympic silver and bronze medals, become a three-time world champion, the 2022 X Games gold medallist, and won FIS World Cups. Now having relocated to Monaco, he’s already begun a gruelling schedule with ambitions set on a gold medal at the Milano Cortina 2026 Olympic Winter Games – to complete a full set and make history.

From the snow slopes to the sea, surfer Mick Fanning is another Australian sporting legend. Having retired in 2018 with three world titles and copious global major event wins to his name, his highly-decorated career is not only defined by medals, but incredible comebacks: a hamstring avulsion that threatened to stop his career before it kickstarted, and a terrifying white shark encounter during the J-Bay CT final in 2015, which remains the most-watched moment in professional surfing history. Having already expertly seen and done it all, here Fanning catches up with James to share some sound advice – from one prestigious adrenaline chaser to another.


Scotty James: Is this your first [time interviewing], Mick?

Mick Fanning: Me? I’m the guy these days, I interview everyone. [both laugh]
SJ: ‘Dad interviewer’, that’s the next chapter. How much time are you spending in the US? Are you doing 50/50?

MF: No, we’re probably here maybe three or four months of the year max.
SJ: Nice. Any specific time?

MF: Last couple of years we did August through to December and this year we’re doing August through to November. But then we’re coming back in January as well.
SJ: Nice. Are you still at the same point in the Goldie?

MF: Yeah, I’m still home. Where are you?
SJ: I’m in Switzerland at the moment, I’m pretty much living over in Europe full time now. I’ve been over here for two years, really since all the craziness happened. I wasn’t in Oz at all for almost two years and during that time I just settled into being in Europe, my fiancé is from over here too, so it felt right. Since then, I don’t go back to Oz much anymore.

MF: That’s falling in love, I love it. [laughs]
SJ: I know, it’s the best.

MF: Are you based in Switzerland?
SJ: I’m actually in Monaco, of all places. It’s funny because a lot of people go, “What are you living in Monaco for? There’s no snow there.” And I’m like, “There’s not much snow in Australia either.” If I can manage from Australia I can probably manage from Monaco.

MF: It’s probably easier from there anyway, isn’t it?
SJ: It’s a good setup. No waves though, it’s dead flat.

MF: Just fly over to France or Portugal, mate.
SJ: I know, I’m going to make a trip. I haven’t been there yet.

MF: Oh it’s amazing, you’d love it.
SJ: You haven’t been to Japan in a while, eh?

MF: I haven’t been since 2018 or 2019, I’m stinging to get back there now it’s open again. I had a few of the crew there hitting me up and asking me to come back but I’ve got to go and practice my snowboarding skills. [laughs]
SJ: Do you reckon there’s much difference between surfing and snowboarding? I think surfing is way harder, personally.

MF: Probably, I feel like with snowboarding you can get to a point where you can get down the hill pretty quickly and you get that repetition over and over again whereas surfing is just a whole different thing. First, you’ve got to paddle out, then you’ve got to pick a wave, then you’ve got to be in time for a wave, and then stand up on an uneven surface and hopefully, your wave goes longer than a few seconds. It’s probably more of a full-body workout than snowboarding. I feel like you get to a point in snowboarding where you can get down the hill pretty good but then it’s like, how nuts do you want to go? Do you want to start doing big jumps or do you want to start going through the trees? You can get away with it in surfing and say, “No, I’m not ready for that yet.” [laughs]
SJ: That is true, I think it’s because the board is attached to your feet, whereas with surfing that puts a limiter on you. When I go surfing, as you said, I feel like there are so many more elements. I feel like, in a non-cheesy way, you have to have a lot of soul when surfing. You’ve got to be a lot more in touch with the elements and everything happening around you to then be able to actually surf, whereas snowboarding you get up on a chairlift, you ride down and it’s obviously the same but extremely different at the same time. I’ve actually had most of my worst bails surfing, fin in the stomach, concussion, the whole bit, but snowboarding I’m chilling. [laughs]

“From a professional level, I’m as motivated as I was when I was thirteen years old, which is super exciting.”


MF: Yeah, I hit a rock flying down the hill one time and it wasn’t fun.
SJ: How’s the transition been for you from sports to being a dad? Did you feel like you were ready?

MF: That first initial thought of, “I’m going to retire” is so scary. I think when you’re in the sport, it sounds so dreamy to retire and surf whenever you want, but then when you actually make the decision it’s like, “Am I actually going to step away from everything I’ve ever known?” It was definitely scary but in 2016 I had half a year off so I learned that it’s okay to sit on the couch for the day, you don’t have to be doing 100 per cent over and over every day. Then when I went back on tour in 2017 I just wasn’t happy and I didn’t have the fight to get up, you know what it’s like when you’re up all the time training, you’re always in the gym, you’re working on equipment, you’re just non-stop and I didn’t have that desire anymore. The transition into fatherhood was probably made a lot easier due to the fact we all got stuck at home, I had my son in August 2020 so I got to be home for the whole of the pregnancy, the birth and then pretty much for his whole first year, which was really cool. It made the transition a lot easier because no one around the world was doing extra fun stuff, so I didn’t get any FOMO.
SJ: We’re obviously at different stages but I still feel like I’ve got a lot to do, a lot to prove in my sport and what I want to accomplish over the next few years. Obviously, I’m getting married and things like that. I’d love to have kids when I’m 32 or something and I plan to still be snowboarding then. But I always think to myself, “Could I do it? Could I actually apply myself every day as I do now?” Also, I’m already so fearful and so nervous all the time about everything I’m doing, is that just going to make it ten times more consequential? Obviously, we’re both in risky sports, if something happened you would never forgive yourself. It sounds really grim but it’s just the honest truth. When you were surfing did you think there was any way you could be a dad then?

MF: I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve come back to do one-off events and when trying to apply myself while having a kid, I just never felt like I was ready for these events. I look back and I don’t think I would have been able to have a child while I was on tour, just because I was so selfish – I wanted to be the absolute best. If I wasn’t surfing, I was figuring out ways to get better, it was all based on my schedule. Then as soon as you become a parent it’s not about you one bit. You’ve just gone from the top of the list of who’s getting all the things first, all the way to the bottom – I’m underneath the dog now. [both laugh] With surfing, you’re so well trained in your sport and you’re so ready that you think maybe you’ll pull back. But people talk about dad strength, some days you do feel like you’re superhuman when you’ve got no sleep whatsoever but you go and do better stuff than you did when you were 100 per cent fit and ready for it. You’ve accomplished so much in the last few years with your X Games and the Olympics, what is next for Scotty James?
SJ: I told you I’ve dropped the knee, so I did that. [both laugh] That’s more on the personal side, but a good self-awareness for me is that [snowboarding] still gets me up out of bed every day – I absolutely love doing it. I’m super passionate about perfecting my craft, I’m always looking at ways of doing what I’m doing now but better. Then I guess, in theory, that’s reflected in the events or competitions. From a professional level, I’m as motivated as I was when I was thirteen years old, which is super exciting. I’m obviously still very young, but in the world of sport, being 28 and doing a similar kind of discipline – the half pipes and the events over and over – it can get somewhat repetitive in a way, but I still really enjoy it. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s possible for me events-wise, I’ve already exceeded what I thought I could do from a competitive level, so now I’m taking it event season by season. Without blowing too much smoke up my arse, I’ve been able to achieve a lot of the accolades I’ve always wanted as a kid with X Games and Olympic medals. But, an elephant in the room for me is being able to win a gold medal at the Olympics, which is four years from now. I was a few points off this year which was a bit bittersweet but I’m super motivated, I’m fired up and keen to keep competing to find the edge to win – that excites me.

MF: Nice. You say you feel like you’re getting older at 28, back when I first got on tour people were retiring at 30.
SJ: It’s crazy.

MF: Now you’ve got a guy called Kelly Slater who is 50 and winning events. I feel like in the last ten years, athletes in particular have learned so much more about the body that they don’t really hit their peak until their 30s. That’s what happened to me, I felt like I did my best stuff and I competed the best when I was in my 30s, so hopefully that’ll happen to you, too.
SJ: You’re right, that’s been a huge transition, I think the majority of snowboarding is still finding its way as countries and individual competitors have perceptions of what that looks like for them. For me, I love going to the gym, the nutrition element, the recovery and all those things that set me up for success. I’ve been doing that for quite a few years now, and looking at a lot of sportspeople it’s breaking down the stereotype of, “Oh, he’s on his way out.” It’s not the case now. I always feel like if you still have the hunger and the desire, it doesn’t necessarily matter the age, you’ve just got to be willing to do the work.


MF: 100 per cent, if you’ve still got the desire to keep working then everything will keep moving in the right direction. As I said, when I had those years off and felt I wasn’t giving 100 per cent, that’s when I felt like my body started breaking down and when I felt like things weren’t as sharp as they were. I wasn’t really enjoying it, I was looking at different avenues, but as soon as you apply yourself there is no stopping you. It’s harder to stop and then come back, it’s super easy to stay at that level and just keep adding onto it.
SJ: What was your driver for so many years? Because I feel like at a point, for me winning was it, I was like, “I want to fucking win!” But then after a while, without sounding terrible, when you start winning and you win enough times, winning isn’t fulfilling enough. You keep looking for something more than just the accolades, it’s something more than that.

MF: For sure, you see yourself on the podium and you’re looking at yourself going, “I could have done that better,” even though it’s great to walk home with a gold medal. I went through a point where I dipped down in the ratings because I was just chasing that win, and that was what I would judge myself on: winning or losing. So I had to sit and look in the mirror to realise it wasn’t healthy. If you’re not winning you start to think, “Am I going to just disappear?” I had to find new motivation in wanting my performance to fulfil me, it didn’t matter if I won or lost, I wanted to go and put on a performance for myself. That changed my whole excitement level, even if I lost but I felt I put on the performance I set out to achieve, I felt good about myself. That gave me another four or five years and allowed me to enjoy the process of getting ready for an event. If you keep doing the same things then it’s going to get stale and that’s where people tend to start falling off, so you have to keep trying to evolve. I guess for snowboarding, you guys are always inventing new tricks, you’ve got that goal outside of the competition. That’s such a huge motivating factor, for someone to go and complete the unthought-of trick in an event and the training that goes into it – that’s so exciting.
SJ: It’s awesome. That’s the super fulfilling part, more so than winning medals. I’ve got to ask you, who is your fiercest rival or opponent? Someone you were always like, “I’ve got to fucking beat him.”

“I always feel like if you still have the hunger and the desire, it doesn’t necessarily matter the age, you’ve just got to be willing to do the work.”

MF: I’d have to say Parko [Joel Parkinson]. We grew up together, we’ve been mates since we were thirteen and we’re like brothers, don’t get me wrong. But when it came to a heat, we absolutely hated each other.
SJ: What year was it when you two were going for the world title?

MF: It was in 2009, we were both going for the title and the town was divided. It wasn’t like, “Oh I hope they both do well,” it was like, “No, you’re either team Joel or team Mick.”
SJ: That’s crazy.

MF: People I thought were my friends would be like, “Go, Parko!” I was like, “Oh thanks, man.” I was speaking to Joel about it and he had the same, he was like, “I just had dinner with a guy two nights before and then all of a sudden he was like ‘Go, Mick!’” [laughs] Competing against him was more than just the result, it was also about when you went home to the pub. We still have a beer today and talk about events and give each other shit about this one or that one and it’s funny. But at the start when we were both on tour, I could not beat him, it took me about five or six years. Even when winning world titles and stuff like that, every time I saw he was on my side of the draw I’d be like, “Oh fuck.” [both laugh]
SJ: That’s so funny.

MF: Who’s your rival at the moment? Is it the Japanese kids?
SJ: Pretty much, you summed it up right there. They’re a force, the Japanese guys and girls just have this incredible natural ability, I don’t know if it’s the same in surfing but they just have the knack for it. When they ride they look effortless, they don’t look like they have to try. They’re super good and I respect them a lot. They’ve got incredible work ethics. In particular, over the past twelve months, Ayumu Hirano has probably been my biggest opponent, or rival. He won gold in February and you probably have the same experience where you’re not buddy-buddy but obviously in passing you’ll say, “Hey mate, how’re you going?” But when we’re out on the pipe on the opposite sides of each wall it’s like, “I want to kill you.” [both laugh] But that’s the best part, and we have moments even on the mountain here of this unspoken thing where we’ll be competing in training. Who’s going to stay up longer? I play these mind games even just for myself, I’m like, “I’m going to stay here longer than you today, 100 per cent.” I respect him a lot, he’s for sure been a big rival for me.


MF: Away from competition, have you got any cool projects going on?
SJ: I’m working on a lot of things. I know everything you touch with investments turns into gold from what Corey Wilson tells me…

MF: Not everything. [both laugh]
SJ: I’ve been keen to talk to you about it, I honestly really enjoy investments. Over the past three years or so I’ve been intrigued by Web3, Crypto and the NFT space as it’s hot at the moment and I personally believe it will be in the future – it’s super exciting. I really love it and it’s cool to see how that’s revolutionising modern society. I think it’s a little bit of a volatile space but it also gives me a thrill. I’m not a trader or anything with coins but I like following along and watching it, I’ve done some investments into a few tech start-ups and things like that. That’s something I really enjoy, it’s kind of a healthy habit that keeps my brain moving and ticking so I’m not always just thinking about snowboarding. It gives me a really good balance, coming down from the mountain not thinking about what I’ve done all day but going and doing other things I find is really important. I know you’ve done a bit, has it always been something you’ve been interested in or has it just fallen in your lap?

MF: I guess it’s the same sort of thing, you get to a point where you’re doing the same thing in and out so you want something else. For me, back in the 1900s, I concentrated more on real estate and stuff like that, every cent I made I tried to put into real estate.
SJ: I did the exact same thing. I feel like that’s what your mum says, “Buy some real estate.” [both laugh]

MF: The last seven years I’ve been more into business and learning what goes into it. We had a really successful one with Balter Brewing and it started from the ground up, being there with my mates and learning about everything that goes into building a brewery was massive. At the end of the day, we’re just surfers, we’re not the brightest people on Earth but we had to learn every different part of the job, which was really cool. Even brewing, when we started the brewery we were like, “Beer’s beer,” then you start learning about what beer is good and different flavours. It was such a big eye-opener and that’s been really fun.
SJ: I bet the research was really enjoyable. [laughs] Balter is good beer, I’ve had one or two. Don’t worry, I’ve supported you.

MF: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. It’s always cool to see new projects come along and the companies I’ve been investing in or getting into these days are ones I’d use on a daily basis. That’s been fun too, selling your own stuff makes it that much more authentic.
SJ: Same-same but different, I’ve been developing my snowboarding gloves. I’m not sure if you’ve seen but I wear boxing glove- style mitts.

MF: I’ve seen them mate, don’t worry. I was going to ask you about that, where did the idea come from and when did it start?
SJ: It happened in 2017, it was X Games and I’d just come back from an event where I felt like I got stooged. [laughs] I was pretty off, I thought I’d taken the W but I didn’t and I was going into X Games in Aspen that week so I was just really fired up. At the time there was a company called Grenade Gloves, which is a really awesome snowboard brand started by some snowboarders and they actually had boxing mitt gloves. They gave them to me and they were my gloves for the week to get some redemption. I ended up winning that event and it was my first X Games ever, since then I ran with it. So I don’t wear them in qualification, I just wear black gloves, and then every final I put on the red mitts and go for the knockout.

MF: I love it, that’s so cool. You’ll see a whole bunch of Aussie kids wearing red gloves on finals days from now on.
SJ: It’s actually one of the most rewarding things ever when you get passionate about a project, like my gloves. I was back in Australia this year and I saw kids wearing them. I guess I never really made them with the belief people would want to wear them, I just thought it was a fun idea and I had a really good team around me. I was like, “Let’s try,” and then it was amazing, I felt like I saw them all over the place which put a big smile on my face.

MF: It’s going to be iconic, like Lleyton Hewitt’s “Come on!”
SJ: That’s it.

Interview originally published in the HERO Winter Annual. 


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