Perhaps the most emotional and miraculous victory in WSL history
Cast your mind back a year and an emotional Tyler Wright was dedicating her victory in the Roxy Pro to her brother, Owen Wright. For Tyler, the elation of victory provided temporary relief from the deep-seated concern for her brother who hadn’t recovered from a brain injury.
During a violent rag-doll at Pipe it was believed that Owen’s brain had rattled violently against his skull, resulting in everything from amnesia to loss of co-ordination and difficulty communicating.
When Tyler hoisted the Roxy Pro trophy above her head 12 months ago it wasn’t clear that Owen would surf again, let alone compete. Back then no one was talking about the details of Owen’s injury, but inside sources suggested he was struggling to even hold down a normal conversation.
Twelve months later and somehow it was Owen swapping places with Tyler to claim the most sensational of victories, at the Quiksilver Pro. The details of Owen’s journey back remain something of a mystery. No doubt there were some dark doors to walk through and major obstacles to overcome.
When talking to the press after the final, Owen hinted at the difficulty posed by a loss of coordination, but suggested that things really started to click back into place for him a few weeks before the birth of his son, Vali. It was obviously a year of major milestones for Owen. To cap it off with victory in a WCT was beyond the reckoning of almost everyone, including Owen. He’d only committed to taking part in the Quiksilver Pro in the weeks leading up to the event.
It was suppose to be a gentle re-introduction into the fiercely competitive WSL realm. Progression through a round would have been miracle enough given where he was coming from. A win over Mick Fanning in round three made it apparent that Owen was very much back in the game.
On finals day it was left to Kelly Slater to capture the early sentiment. Still smarting from his loss to Gabriel, when the WSL cameras zoomed in on Kelly, Mr Dial a Quote was ready.
“Wouldn’t it be the story of stories if it was he (Owen) and Wilko in the final.”
And so it was – last year’s bolt-from-the blue winner up against an almost reincarnated Owen Wright. A finals appearance for Wilko automatically dismissed any suggestion that his 2017 dream run was a fluke. Meanwhile for Owen, a debut in the ultimate stage of the contest proved unequivocally that he was physically and mentally back.
The two goofies had grown up surfing and competing alongside one another and remain good friends; also sharing space in the Rip Curl camp. As Owen pointed out after his semi the two “best mates” were underdogs who had eclipsed world champions (Medina and Florence) to be in the final. Owen later admitted that he and Matt had embraced in the dressing rooms before the final and had joked about meeting in the final while training together in the lead up to the event.
This was a feel good story of Disney proportions before they even paddled out for the final. However, as warm and fuzzy as the moment may have been, we still hoped to see them fight like tail-whipping scorpions in the final.
However, for the first twenty minutes it was a staid affair – Wilko’s, drift and whip just had the edge over Owen’s more loping sky-hooks.
With eight minutes to go Matt was in the lead with only a 6.6 and 5.3 to his name.
It was hardly a commanding lead and one sensed the final act hadn’t been played out. As Wilko took off on a wave, the beach crowd became fixated on his quickfire snaps and impeccable transitions. However, eyes soon shifted to Owen who was monstering a couple of turns on the outside section. Owen ultimately won the cheer meter and the support of the judges posting an 8.33 alongside Wilko’s 6.9. It was enough for Owen to go ahead by a little more than a point at a critical point in the heat. The way Wilko recalled it he looked over and saw his friend, Owen screaming, “Go flat, Go flat!” It wasn’t an ideal scenario for Wilko but at least it was a clear indication that his mate’s competitive instincts were well and truly firing.
Post-final it was a wild party scene for the Wright family. Tyler, Mikey and Dad, Rob, were all on hand to celebrate the monumental victory. Most moving however, was Owen’s move to embrace his partner, Kita, and baby boy, Vali. In his acceptance speech an almost disbelieving Owen dwelt on the “love and support” he had received from so many in his journey back to competition.
After the beer spray had settled Tracks asked Owen if he now had an uncanny kind of advantage because he now valued every little moment more.
“Man, it’s a bit of cliché but what doesn’t kill you definitely makes you stronger,” he said emphatically. “
“I feel a lot stronger mentally and emotionally through these things and everything right now is such a blessing and it’s hard for me to find the bad things after what I’ve been through. It definitely highlights all the beautiful lights and all the beautiful people I have around me and all the love and support. It’s a lot easier to see than before. I might have got caught up in this heat and that heat or whatever but now I feel a lot better in general. ”
Tracks also asked Owen whether he was ready to surf heavy waves again, to which he gave a candid response.
“I’ve still got that to go through. I haven’t gone and challenged that yet. There’s another barrier that I have to push through and just competing at this event was a barrier that I had to push through…
I wanted to do it before this event, to get that ticked off, but it didn’t happen because there was no swells around. So I’m going to try and go to west aus’ earlier and just try and be in some big waves. Hopefully just surf Margies at eight to ten foot just like it always is and I’ll get some waves to at least break through that barrier before pulling on a jersey.”
Perhaps most importantly of all Owen commented directly on the medical ramifications of once again charging big waves.
“As far as my health goes I’m assured that I’m one hundred per cent ok. There’s no physical danger, it’s just a mental challenge.”
More words will not capture the wonder and sentiment of Owen’s win, but I think it’s fair to say that it deserves to be remembered as one of pro surfing’s greatest victories. Meanwhile, his competitors won’t be giving Owen an inch in the next few events and to know he can insight fear in the opposition is probably the ideal scenario as far as Owen’s concerned. The big O is not just back; he’s a full-blown contender.