Sean Doherty On: Bouncing Souls
COASTALWATCH | 2016 QUIKSILVER & ROXY PRO FRANCE
I think I can pinpoint the moment I knew Tyler Wright would one day soon become the best surfer in the world.
It wasn’t last night in France, as her world title opponent Courtney Conlogue trailed in her semi and Tyler’s actual world title moment approached.
It was back in January last year when, surfing for her local boardriders club in the national final in Cronulla, Sydney, she surfed a desperate, last minute wave straight up into the concrete ocean pool. Floated clean into it. Drydocked. Then, with her leash wrapped around the guide chain and a solid set bearing down on her, she dived head first into the wave, got smashed into back the concrete wall, and clambered back up bruised and bloodied.
It was a boss move from a boss.
All thoughts of self-preservation were thrown straight out the window for a heat that in terms of world titles meant less than nothing, but to Tyler meant plenty. She was surfing for Culburra, her sleepy little ol’ hometown, and the rest of Culburra – all of its 2677 residents – were relying on her score. She got the score but barely got out of there alive, and in a symbolic – and in light of what’s happened this year, ironic – next move, older her brother Owen ran down, scooped her out of the pool, and carried her in his arms up to the waiting medic.
Being interviewed on the beach in Hossegor, France, in the dying light yesterday, there was one phrase that amongst everything said summed up why Tyler Wright is now the world champ. When asked about her family back home and how much of a motivating role they’ve played in her season she simply replied, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.”
Tyler’s pit crew had somehow duped Tyler into believing she needed to win the whole event to win the world title, the reality of course is that this was only the case if Courtney also made the final. Courtney didn’t and Tyler won, although Tyler only realised she was world champ when Steph Gilmore crash tackled her. For nine years the women’s title has been held between the two generational surfers – Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore – and it was always going to take someone special to dislodge them.
There’s a lot made about what Tyler has had to deal with personally to get to where she did today – and we’ll get to that soon – but in many ways her growth as a surfer this year has been just as remarkable.
Blessed with an explosive top turn, Tyler has never had any trouble matching chops with Steph and Carissa, but where she’s had trouble in the past is making the space between the notes sing and making the whole wave just flow. It was clear early in the year that the first thing her coach, Glen Hall had worked on is drawing her turns out, countering a naturally shorter turning arc, and ensuring she entered and exited them crisply… all the stuff that has made Steph in particular so damn great to watch. Once Tyler started stringing them together she looked deadly.
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Like most world champions in a world title year, Tyler’s best surfing happened between events, and anyone who saw her hands-free pit at Cloudbreak, or that south coast barrel she wrestled during the big June swell, maybe the best wave surfed anywhere by anyone during that week, felt this had to be her year.
Then all Micro had to do was keep Tyler flowing between heats.
The fact Tyler is now world champion and Matt Wilkinson led the men’s ratings for most of the year is no accident. Pairing them up as training and travelling partners was a masterstroke. Despite their best efforts to act serious on the big stage, Tyler and Wilko both possess a goofy, quirky sense of wonder about the world, and Micro has done little to curb the comedy routines. He’s no fun sheriff. He’s let them do their thing, but along the way managed to impart some simple, repeatable strategies and a couple of believable mantras that created a rare single-mindedness in two surfers who distract easy and laugh at everything around them like it’s a dog riding a skateboard. Micro’s turned them into badass winners and deserves a huge slice of this win today. Right now, as this posts, he could well be celebrating with a nude run down the rue outside Café de Paris in downtown Hossegor.
Personally, well, you know what Tyler’s been dealing with this year, although you might not have a full grasp of how involved she’s been with her brother’s rehab. From the day of Owen’s head injury back in Hawaii last December – right through the off-season where the prognosis was hazy at best, right through the year as Owen’s slowly worked his way back to a point he was surfing Lennox last week and starting to look like his old self – Tyler has been there. It felt like her ratings and his recovery were somehow linked. Lesser known was the fact she lost an uncle last year, and if Tyler was willing to throw herself into a concrete wall for her club, then what wouldn’t she do for family?
Her interview after the final against Carissa was all class, and captured perfectly the spirit of a girl who’s ready to lead the free surfing world. She’d already surfed a wave goofy in the final as a tribute to her big bro, before giving an insight into how much the dramas her family had been through this year had driven her along.
Whether she’d have won the world title without all the hardship at home, whether she’d have been as driven, we’ll never know, but her interview after the final gave an insight into the fire it lit inside her. It was quite a speech, the best one delivered by a minted world champ I can remember.
“It’s why I’ve done this and why I’ve been able to do this, because whether I won this or not they’d love me the same and everything we’ve been through this year they’ve been there. My personal life hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth it, and I love them so much. I’ve been home for four days in four months and it’s been hard, especially when everything in your entire being wants to be home because you know things are happening, so to be able to come out and win and do it for them – for me but for them – I love them so much, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.” After thanking her crew at home she finished, “This is my gift for you guys… cause I don’t know how to give anything else back.”
With the title bagged, there was only one question left. “Where’s the dance party? Let’s go.”
It was a day for bouncing souls, because nobody – with the exception of the man himself – expected Keanu Asing to beat, in order, John John Florence then Gabe Medina to win the contest. Keanu didn’t need motivation. Like he ever needs that. He didn’t need luck either. He simply outsurfed and outsmarted two surfers whose rating points, paycheques, fanbases and height all have several more zeroes than his.
Like Tyler, Keanu has also employed a vertically challenged coach in fellow Hawaiian John Shimooka and the two diminutive South Shore surfers cooked up the biggest upset of a wildly unpredictable year. Keanu had to ride some conflicting emotion however, beating fellow Hawaiian, Florence in the semis and opening the door for Brazilian Medina to give John’s ratings lead a serious haircut, down to just 700 points. In a way though, he just created a bigger reason to go out and win the final.
By this stage of the season Gabe is generally running hot, dismantling people, but with everything to surf in the final for he got outplayed by Keanu, lost his head and lost his bearings, and eventually fell into his own trap, a pointless interference closing out the final for the Hawaiian. Keanu thanked the Big Guy in the sky, the little guy in the surfer’s area, and toasted a win he’s unlikely to forget in a while.
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