“I won some cool exhibition events with some big airs, but while I was winning those events I was also winning ISA World Junior titles”
– Owen Wright
Once upon a time, in the competitive environment of surfing, the idea of an aerial manoeuvre mustering up any more acknowledgement than a yawn from judges was a far off and foreign thought. Present and future generations should give many thanks to previous risk takers such as our 1989 World Champ, Martin Potter, who introduced aerial manoeuvres to competition surfing.
Jump forward in time to Pat Gudauskas landing the World Championship Tour’s first ever Rodeo Flip in 2010, and we’re witnessing the future of competitive surfing inverting before our very eyes. Pro surfers today exist in an age where a mix between traditional and new age tricks has become a must, and those who lack in certain skill sets will more than likely succumb to failure.
Having started surfing at the age of five in the seaside town of Culburra on the South Coast of New South Wales and having landed his first air at the age of nine, the now 22 year old Owen Wright has long ago superseded the world tour status of rookie, and more than far surpassed expectations placed on him. Starting off on the junior series, Owen has worked his way up and is now one of the world’s most renowned sportsmen.
Firstly Mr Wright, what essentials are a must for your trunk?
In the back of my ute, I pack a few surfboards, my Rip Curl Mirage boardshorts, some wax, water, sunscreen, a few sets of Power Base Fins and if I remember, a towel.
Can you remember your first board and your first wave?
I sure can. The board was a hand me down from my uncle. It was a green 6’0 Byrne actually, which the same company that I ride for today. My sister, Tyler, learned to surf on it after me. I kind of don’t remember my first wave, I most probably fell flat on my face.
At what age did you do your first air?
I was nine when I did my first air. I remember it so vividly. I was surfing out the front of our house in Culburra. I took off on a left and raced as fast as I could – all I wanted to do was an air. I hit the end section in the same line I would normally take to do a reo and I just busted into the air. I landed and was pretty stoked. I knew mum was sitting on the beach filming, but I didn’t want to act like a big head and claim it to her.I ended up looking in and saw she was filming. I’m still stoked on it to this day.
So you went from the small town kid to big time, professional surfer…Would you find that statement correct? Or do you feel the endless junior touring prepared you well enough for the ‘real world’?
I feel like maybe a bit of both is true. Jumping on the ASP World Tour is a whole new level. Everything was new, different and challenging. So in ways, I went from a country kid to the big leagues, but the touring with the ISA Junior World games and trips with my sponsors did also help me in adjusting a to the full-time touring lifestyle.
So 2010 was your debut year on the World Championship Tour of Surfing, did you feel like there was a lot of pressure on you to go out and do well straight off the board?
2010 was my rookie year on tour. I learnt a lot of valuable lessons that year, lessons that I still take with me coming into each event. I don’t feel like there was a lot of pressure on me, though. I placed more on myself than anything else, as I’m very competitive. I have sponsors like Rip Curl who have had surfers competing since the tour began. They were open with their advice and said to make sure that I had a fun year and learn from all the experiences.
Do you feel your aerial skills gave you an advantage coming into the tour?
Having a good aerial game is definitely an advantage at some of the events, such as Hossegor, Trestles and San Francisco, which are all short, punchy beach breaks that allow you to execute dynamic airs.
What exactly are you thinking when you enter a heat?
Haha, that’s a trade secret. I won’t be giving too many tips away. Good try, though.
It could be said you were once labelled as an aerial kid, but you throw down a backhand reo like you’re the boss and you know it. Have you always had a mean hack attack on you or was it something you had to work on coming into the WCT?
I won some cool exhibition events with some big airs, but while I was winning those events I was also winning ISA World Junior titles, Pro Juniors and WQS events. I love the airs when they are appropriate, but the feeling of a massive barrel and a big carve is just as much of a rush.
Do you think aerial surfing is getting the recognition it deserves from the judges?
Yes, I do. It’s been a slow-ish process and sometimes it has been hard at times to get the right scores cause the airs have advanced so quickly. The judges are trying and are really making the rewards worth the risk.
Please talk us through staying focussed on the tour when you’re living the dream and at such a young age?
For sure it’s hard to stay focused on tour, there are so many distractions if you are looking for them. I have a great coach named Dean Davies. Dean travels with me full time and helps to keep me on the right path.
What typical distractions or challenges have you seen throw a WCT surfer out of focus?
It’s like every town the tour pulls into is gearing up for a party. That’s cool and it’s a really good way of meeting all the locals, but in past, I’ve seen some of the crew stay in the party a bit too long; I think most of us have been there. These days I see the guys who do really well leave the partying until after the job is done.
How do you find peace amongst all the travel madness? What’s your escape?
For me finding peace on the road varies from place to place. Training is a good way to clear my head. At times I retreat into my room to read a book or watch a good movie and other times I go and explore the local area to see a bit of culture. Anything that removes me from watching the events all day is good.
Please give us 5 Words to describe your favourite aspects of being on tour?
Adventure, challenge, fun, passion, and travel.
Please give us 5 words to describe your least favourite aspects of being on tour?
It’s hard to find 5 words, but if I had to say anything it would be that the airlines always try and sting you for excess.
What is your best heat memory?
I feel like the answer I am about to give maybe seen as a bit of a cliché (because I won), but the best heat memory I have is from final of the Quiksilver Pro 2011 in New York. The final was against Kelly and it was the 2nd final in a row that we’d come against each other. I went out with no doubt in my mind that I was ready to take it to Kelly. The week before in Tahiti, Kelly beat me and I wasn’t going to let that happen again without a fight. I got a good lead up early on him and never looked back. For my first event win to be against the greatest surfer ever was a dream come true. I don’t think the storyline could have been scripted any better even if a professional writer had penned it.
We’ve heard stories of 80-year-old Hawaiian surfers eating seaweed straight off the ocean bed so that they don’t have to get out the water all day… your surfing future in a nutshell?
Eating seaweed is something I’d have never thought of to surf longer… In a nutshell: I love all aspects of surfing and I’m searching for more, but I’m not much of a fortune teller so we’ll wait and see!
Photography by Spence Hornsby.
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© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016