Mick Fanning has announced a fulltime return to the world surfing tour. He took a sabbatical and competed only part time last year following the death of his brother, Peter, the end of his marriage and the angst caused by his shark encounter at South Africa’s Jeffreys Bay. The first event of his comeback will be the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast next week.

“I’ve decided to come back to competition full time and do the tour this season,” Fanning said in a statement released by the World Surf League. “It was nice to have 2016 off somewhat and decompress, but I’m excited to put the singlet on again … 2015 was a tough year. A lot happened to me on camera and in my personal life. I just felt exhausted by the end of it. Fortunately, I was in a position to step away from the tour and have some time to myself. I ended up doing a few events and qualifying, which was great because I didn’t want to take the wildcard off of Bede (Durbidge) or Owen (Wright). I’m coming into 2017 seeded 18th, which will be a change for me.”

The 35-year-old Fanning’s quest for a fourth world title will come against a gun group of youngsters led by Hawaii’s current World No. 1, the 24 year-old John John Florence.

“Even with the 2017 season looming, I wasn’t sure I was motivated enough to take part,” Fanning said.

“However, like everyone else I’m getting super excited about this year’s line-up of surfers. It might be the best field from the top seed to number 34 we’ve ever had. I also think it’s the biggest group of legit title contenders we’ve ever seen on the tour ever and I want to be part of the race. The most important thing to me is to me is making sure my surfing keeps evolving and the tour, now more than ever, is the best place to do that. In recent years I managed to find good balance between competitive focus and having fun. Getting switched on for events this year will be the key for me. I don’t think it will be a problem. It’s not in my nature to be half-hearted so now that I’m committed I’ll be doing everything I can to get a win.”

America’s 11-time world champion Kelly Slater has also confirmed another title shot at the age of 45. “If Mick is in 100 per cent, I’d put him right at the top of the heap. You’d be silly to not think Mick is top three in the world right now, all things considered. Having won at so many different breaks and being so dominant at places like Bells and Jeffreys Bay, there’s no way he’s not a contender.”