And why there is more to come.
“Mikey is about to shock the world,” suggested the Quiksilver employee seated alongside me as Mikey and John John’s round two re-match got under way. It was a big statement, ripe with bias, but quite possibly on the money.
As world champion you don’t get to choose which wildcard you surf against and John John had definitely drawn the short straw with an in-form Mikey Wright. In round one they’d completely out-psyched one another, pushing too deep and making hasty decisions, leaving Griffin Colapinto to cherry pick the best waves and cruise to victory. The fate of the draw now saw John John Vs Mikey in a man on man scenario – a much more riveting proposition.
For the first few minutes you could have thrown a legrope around the two of them. Dreamy ribbons unfurled through the middle of the bank as the two surfers sat stoically on the rock at Snapper. Despite their round one failings both surfers were obviously steadfastly determined to sit deep.
The first exchange was a defining moment. John John hit the trigger on a smaller wave and the crowd went all gooey with awe as he snapped crisply and melted through a silky lay-back snap. Flawless, fluid surfing with those tight elbows and delicate hands that give it all a dance like quality.
Moments later Mikey took off deep, intentionally avoided the barrel and went straight up and over the lip, before wrenching through multiple, full-throttle of power turns. It was V-8 surfing, hitting the corners as hard as possible and accelerating back into the pocket in a way that made you wonder how he didn’t just keep going the wrong way. At 7.83 it was two points better than John John’s 5.83, but the cheers for Mikey were ten times louder. The world champ was a long way from Hawaii where even the local cops roll ‘Go John John’ caps. The crowd was here to see an upset and Mikey Wright was obviously in a mood to deliver.
Matt Hoy was also amongst the crowd in my immediate vicinity. It’s well known that the former world tour surfer with a wild man rep, has a close connection with Mikey, and Hoy watches his heats closer than most. Matt was impressed by Mikey’s opening wave but openly expressed his disdain for the scrappy finish –concerned that the judges might find some reason to make things harder for a rebel wildcard up against an almost untouchable world champ. The WSL screens flashed to an equally anxious looking Owen Wright who was riding every moment of his little bro’s performance.
Mid-heat, the waves wen walk-about; drones buzzed, a flotilla of pink Roxy umbrellas decorated the beach, school dodging kids leapt off the rocks into the Snapper soup, Mikey and John John played cat and mouse. “What would you be telling him now?” someone asked Matt Hoy. “I don’t know, he knows more than me,” exclaimed Hoy, reticent to adopt the tone of the serious coach or mentor.
When John John pearled a rail on a regulation carve it was obvious he was rattled. In the next exchange, John John manufactured a barrel, but Mikey had priority and again snaffled the best wave. His four move combo begun with a neat tube (already better than John’s ) and included the kind of gouging, grab rail cuttie that would have power purists punching the couch in excitement. When the judges dropped a 7.27 and left John John just outside a combination situation Hoy was horrified. “They just left him in it. It should have been an eight and he was gone. It should have been over.”
When John John shifted down the bank in search of salvation no Mikey fan felt comfortable. They knew the 9.27 he required was the flip of a board away. Finally, as an excited Quiksilver camp counted down out loud, a diving seabird slapped heavily into the water, providing a fitting metaphor for a heat in which Mikey Wright had smashed the world champion.
Post heat it’s a family affair. Owen and Tyler show up to embrace their little brother while Mikey’s dog, Bacon, leaps excitedly around the media area. This event has a way of inspiring magic for the Wrights. Two years ago Tyler won here and dedicated the victory to Owen who was recovering from a brain injury. Last year Owen claimed a miraculous comeback victory. Could the Wrights make it a hat trick? If Mikey maintains his current form and focus it’s certainly possible. When Tracks asked Mikey about his reduced mistake rate and capacity to win with two almost flawless waves he commented, “I’ve been working on that a lot although the last two surfs I haven’t landed anything so it was nice to go out there and get two waves and land both of them.”
And while Mikey was talking about landing he hadn’t been taking to the air. Quizzed about his tactics to keep the fins in the water he was adamant that there was no need to disrupt a winning formula. “At the moment I’m still getting the good scores without going to the air, but I can still go to the air whenever I want… If I get the perfect section I’ll definitely do them.”
So there it is. We won’t get to witness John John surf Kirra in a singlet if that’s where the comp ends up (there are plenty of murmurs about the possibility), but we may yet see Mikey fly. The man with the mullet and the insane free-surfing act has found the mental aptitude to win heats. His competitors have every right to be concerned.