14 Dec 2016

Surfing below the Northern Lights

8:55 pm on 14 December 2016

After a tumultuous year that saw him attacked by a shark while competing, Australian surfer Mick Fanning has completed a once-in-a-lifetime surf under the Northern Lights.

Australian surfer Mick Fanning surfs beneath Northern Lights on the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten.

Australian surfer Mick Fanning surfs beneath Northern Lights on the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten. Photo: Red Bull / Emil Sollie and Mats Grimsaeth

Fanning - currently on a hiatus from professional surfing - camped out on a beach in the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten with local photographers Emil Sollie and Mats Grimsaeth, waiting for the conditions to align.

They did not have to wait long.

"We'd set out a 10-day waiting period because there were so many elements that had to come together," Fanning told the ABC.

"Even then it was a bit of a roll of the dice. You need the right waves, clear skies and on top of all that, you actually need the lights to come on."

The lights came on for the first two nights, but the waves refused to co-operate.

"But on the third night we got lucky," Fanning said.

Watch the full video of Fanning's ride on the project sponsor's site here

The surfer spent the night riding "surprisingly good" waves as the photographer set to work capturing an image they planned for two years.

In keeping with his ethos for 2016, Fanning also took time to take in the spectacle.

"From my end it was pretty easy, I just had to ride the waves," Fanning said.

"But there was four to six minutes between sets [of waves] and in that time I was just staring up at the sky just screaming with excitement."

With the shot in the bag, Fanning and the photographers took a moment to celebrate the achievement.

"Everyone was on a high," the three-time world champion recalled.

"I think I finished surfing at 2am and I tried to put myself to sleep but I couldn't, everyone was so pumped when we saw the pictures."

Time out after difficult year

Fanning has taken an indefinite period of leave from professional surfing after a tumultuous 2015.

In July, he was attacked by a shark while competing at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Footage of the incident has since clocked up close to 26 million views.

Surfer Mick Fanning is hunted by a great white shark in South Africa.

A screenshot of the shark attack on Fanning in South Africa Photo: World Surf League

Fanning bounced back and continued to compete, but learned of his brother Peter's death on the eve of a world title showdown in Hawaii.

In February, Fanning announced he had separated from wife of eight years, Karissa Dalton.

Earlier this year he confirmed he would only compete selectively but would not be drawn on his intentions after that.

He posted an emotional win at the event in Jeffreys Bay but has not competed since the World Surf League event in California in September.

Fanning said he had learned to deal with the sustained media interest in his life after the shark attack, but welcomed periods of "unplugging and getting away from it all".

"It does take its toll from time to time but you just have to take it in your stride," Fanning said.

"Sometimes you just want to disappear and fall off the face of the Earth, but I think everyone does that."

Fanning is not the only veteran surfer to send out mixed signals about his future in the sport. Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater took to social media stating he was "all in" for one last shot at a world title.

"To be 45 and still winning events is just out of this world," Fanning said of Slater and the possibility of his retirement.

"He's done things that will never be repeated and he took the sport to the mainstream. It's going to be a hard one not having him there."

- ABC

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