Of all the things we saw on last week's webcast of the Quik and Roxy Pros, the image that tugged most insistently at the heartstrings came after Tyler Wright's victory in the final over Courtney Conlogue. Returning triumphantly to the beach, Tyler spied her biggest fan, identifiable by the long blond hair protruding from under a sunhat, applauding in the VIP area, and made a beeline for him. Her older brother Owen Wright welcomed her in a teary embrace.
Last year's world no. 5 has been recovering from a serious brain injury since early December when he hit the deck at Pipeline, ruling him out of the Pipe Masters and at least the first half of this year's world tour. Updates on his condition have come mostly in the form of occasional Instagram posts -- trips to the beach with his family, a sit-down paddling sesh with girlfriend Kita Alexander, and five days ago, this: "Feel like I've finally turned a corner with my head injury."
Yesterday he revealed he went surfing for the first time since the accident:
"Sharing my journey - I went for my first surf a couple days ago. It was the funnest thing in the world. Funny thing is... i couldn't get to my feet. So I just layed there. It was about knee high and the drop was.. well there was none but it felt like I was dropping into 10ft teahupoo. I finished the wave and I was so stoked I let out a hoot and claimed it and high fived kita.
"5 mins later I was on the beach and started to think about what I actually did and started comparing it to what I used to be like or what everybody else was doing out there... and started to question why cant i....this I found started to ruin my experience and change how I really felt.
"It made me realise that ......self improvement is necessary but to focus on camparison of what used to be, what others can do or why you're not good enough is detrimental to the now; negative emotion in your self will hinder improvement and happiness.
"Simple statement .... challenging to practice."
Has anyone ever had a bad word to say about Owen Wright? There might not be a more likeable surfer on tour. His situation sounds bleak, of course, but just a few weeks ago he could barely stand on dry land, let alone on a surfboard — so he is making progress. And fuck, terms like "positive attitude" or "inspirational", usually so nauseating, here seem spot-on.
Here he is at Pipe, pre-injury, on one of the waves of the winter: