Owen Wright | From Career-Threatening Brain Injury to World no.1
"Early February I was sitting in the doctor’s office and there were question marks on the year..."
December 9th 2015: A morning's warm up sesh at unruly Pipeline saw then World no.5 and World Title contender (DeSouza would go on claim the crown) Owen Wright suffer a nasty wipeout and a multiple wave hold down that saw him exit the water a bit wobbly on his feet.
He walked up to the beach to the Rip Curl house located next to the path at Off The Wall and took a nap.
Hours later, still feeling unwell, he was taken to hospital with a suspected concussion.
Reports came through of bleeding on the brain, an injury much more serious than anyone had first thought. Owen wouldn't be competing at Pipe. It was assumed he'd be back in jersey at Snapper for the 2016 season.
As weeks and months went on, it became obvious that Owen had actually got much more seriously hurt than anyone, himself included, had first thought.
He was spotted on the webcast at Snapper last March supporting his sister Tyler. Kind of hidden under a wide brimmed hat, the glimpses viewers got of Owen did little to raise the spirits of those hoping to see him back in action anytime soon.
All kinds of rumours started to go around. About him never being able to surf, much less compete again. It was said he had to re-learn how to walk. It certainly wasn't looking good.
March 23rd 2016: Owen gets back in the water for his first surf since the injury, but admits not being able to even stand up.
His own comment on the post included, "I couldn't get to my feet. So I just layed there... 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....to focus on comparison 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."
Sure, it was great to see the big guy back in the water, but the outlook hardly looked promising.
Months later, a tour insider, a guy who knows Owen well, told me, around early September, that he'd recently told Owen it was time to face reality that he was permanently damaged.
That he'd never be the same again. The insider had himself suffered a head trauma that had left him deaf. He told Owen that he too had to 'accept he was damaged, and then get on with his life.'
Around the time the tour was getting ready for the Euro leg title showdown last year, insiders were still reporting that Owen was in a bad way, and that the worst part was perhaps that he didn't really realise it himself.
As one of the less eloquent put it, "He so fucked, he doesn't even know he's fucked..."
In an interview early in 2017, having just recently become a dad, Owen admitted "having a baby is easy compared to a head injury. It seriously is."
Recovered from the head injury, there was still a major question mark over his immediate future, as admitted by Owen in an emotional post-final interview this weekend.
"I think it was the start of February – I was sitting in the doctor’s office and there were question marks on the year..."
The rest, as they say is history. If nobody really saw Wilko's Snapper win coming last year, nobody even dreamed Owen Wright could get not only back where he belongs on Tour, but go on to win his very first event back from an injury that threatened his life.
From here? The outlook is scary. Scary good. Once he gets some meat back on his bones (his singlet sagged on him at Snapper like at a groms' event) and adds that trademark physicality to go with the raw surf talent, Owen can only improve.
And it's hard to imagine a more popular choice for the 2017 World Champion.