Last year, Mick Fanning was lucky to survive a terrifying shark attack at J-Bay. He took time out from surfing, and admitted he didn't know if he would ever make it back.

This year, he won the J-Bay Open.

In an incredible tale of overcoming adversity, the likeable Aussie surfer somehow managed to defy nerves and fear - he'd be crazy if he wasn't at least a little scared in the water - to win his fourth crown at the South African event on Saturday night (AEST).

The 35-year-old - with the help of a 9.93 second wave - beat Hawaiian John John Florence, who was unable to retake the lead after that in a 35-minute heat to decide the winner.

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Everyone was in awe of Fanning's achievement, and rightly so.

For most people, surfing probably isn't the first sport that springs to mind when they think of great Australian victories - even though we've had our fair share of title-winners in Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley, Joel Parkinson and Mark Occhilupo to name just a few. But Fanning - himself a three-time world champion - made sure that would change with his incredible effort.

UFC boss Dana White was one of those to send his congratulations the Aussie's way.

The tributes flowed faster than the VB will at Fanning's obligatory victory party, and there was a recurring theme among them. Or more accurately, a recurring word. Legend.

Undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of Fanning's triumph was his ability to overcome the mental scars that inevitably follow you around after you stare death - or a great white shark - in the face. But he had his physical ailments too.

Just before the event started he hurt his ankle and required constant treatment just to be able to get out on a board and compete, let alone have success. But just like any inner demons he must have had, Fanning wasn't about to let anything hold him back.

"I'm just stoked that I actually got to come back and right the wrong - that was my whole plan, was to just to right to wrongs that happened last year. And we did that now, so we can move on," Fanning said.

"It just feels a lot lighter not going for the world title and not having that pressure on."

Aside from that infamous shark attack, Fanning has had to endure plenty of other hardships in the past 12 months, including the tragic death of his brother and the break-up of his marriage. He's taken on a lighter load this year, and has so far surfed in four of the six World Surf League events. Winning is nice, but it's not everything for the man with a renewed perspective on life.

"I've already said I'll go to Trestles (California) and that will be my last event of the year," he said.

"World titles aren't the biggest thing for me any more."

Fanning, who went from 16th to fifth in the world rankings with the victory, was watched from the shore by his mother, Elizabeth Osborne.

We're sure his mother was immensely proud of her son, a sentiment shared by the rest of Australia, and probably the world.