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A Concise History Of The Reef Fanning Sandal

“I reckon more people know my name for that sandal than they do for anything I’ve ever done in surfing. And that’s even after I almost got eaten by a shark live on TV.” Mick Fanning

Mick fights off unwelcome company in SA, 2015. Photo: WSL

Flip flops, sandals, jandals, and thongs, have always been controversial. Back in 4000 BC, the ancient Egyptians are credited with the invention of footwear that used a strap after the big toe. The Romans, added a twist, placing the strap on the second toe. Hardly up there with the roads, cement, and the aqueduct as their best inventions, but progress of a sort. 

The Mesopotamians, known for always taking things one step too far, used the strap on the third toe. Whether this was the lightning rod for becoming the cradle of civilization is a debate thongologists never tire of. 

In 2003, an Australian visionary called Mick Fanning invented his Reef Fanning Sandal. His addition of a beer opener on the base was the single biggest technological leap since the Greek’s invention of the water clock. But more on that later. 

The modern-day flip-flop traces its origin back to Japan. In the 1950s Japan began shipping rubber flip-flops to the U.S. as one of its earliest exports after the war. They were marketed as Zoris, Japanese thongs typically made of straw.

Mick Fanning, doing his second job.

In 1964, the Beach Boys hit All Summer Long mentions “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs”. However, the term flip-flop had been increasingly used in America and the UK during the 1960s. In terms of product onomatopoeia, it remains the gold standard, despite the best efforts of Ziploc and Pop-Tart. 

Australians, who perhaps take the piece of footwear more seriously than any other, stuck with the thong, named after the Y-shaped strap known as a toe thong that passes between the first and second toes. Such was the popularity in Oz, thongs had to be banned from construction sites in the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Queensland government decreed that schoolteachers not be permitted to wear thongs to work. The school teacher thong riots of Brisbane are still mentioned in High School staff rooms to this day.  

The entomology would be of no interest to anyone until the piece of underwear formerly known as the g-string started being called the thong in the late 1970s. By the time The Thong Song was a top 10 hit in 1999, with the lyrics ”She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck/Thighs like what, what, what/All night long/Let me see that thong”, the term was attached, by a tiny thread of lingerie, forever more to the pantie version. 

The Aussies, three decades deep though, weren’t about to change, even if it led to many lost-in-translation red faces and some of the worst Valentine’s Day presents in the western world. 

The thong, flip flop, or sandal would have meandered along with a steady clickety-clack for a further 4000 years if it wasn’t for a certain Michael “Eugene” Fanning. Just five years after Sisqó was talking of dump trucks, Reef approached the surfer known as White Lightening for his input into his signature sandal. 

“I can’t take much of the credit, but I did ask for the sandal to be far more comfortable and durable,” Mick told Wavelength. “Reef came up with the air pocket, which gave it such good support throughout the whole sandal. I’ll claim the beer opener though. It was a gimmick, sure, but tell that to all the people that have opened a beer with those bad boys. It’s a life saver.”

Mick and his creation. Photo courtesy Reef.

18 years on, Mick’s model has been the biggest selling sandal since the Mesopotamians brought out their third toe version. In 2009 Apple’s early visionary marketing guru Guy Kawisaki told Forbes that the Fanning sandal was “one of his favourite “deep” ideas.” And that’s the guy that is credited with making the graphical user interface a thing.

By 2018, the single model had amassed $600mil plus in sales and hasn’t stopped there. Stab reported that Mick’s cut was 25 American cents a pair, or less than a half-percent royalty on the retail price. As a comparison, Michael Jordan received 4 percent from Nike for his Air Jordans, and they can’t even open a fricken beer. On the flip side, Fanning has earned around three million bucks for a design that has been around since the Pyramids were new builds. 

To this day Mick’s Sandal, of which there is a varying models including our favorites the Lux and the Low, remain the best-selling sandals on Amazon, and our own Wavelength shop. The Mick Fanning Sandal is far and away the best-selling product to ever come out of the surf industry. And that includes kneeboards. 

“I reckon more people know my name for those sandals than they do for anything I’ve ever done in surfing, and that’s even after I almost got eaten by a shark live on TV,” laughed Mick. “But that’s fine by me. They are a damn good thong.”