After winning her second consecutive world title in Hawaii in early December, Tyler Wright told the media, "I am so in love with my job right now. "
But that hasn't always been the case for the 23-year-old Australian surfer from Culburra Beach in the South Coast region of New South Wales. In fact, she quit pro surfing once before and seriously considered quitting again in 2015. The emotional impact of growing up on the tour - she joined when she was 16 -- as well as her roller-coaster relationship with the sport has shaped Wright in her quest to be the best female surfer in the world.
With the level of her performances in 2016 and 2017 -- in a sport that almost killed one of her brothers, Owen, whose traumatic brain injury and minor brain bleed, after he was pummelled by waves during a practice session before the Pipeline Masters in Hawaii, in Dec. 2015, impacted her in and out of the water -- Wright has solidified her spot in surfing history. Here's how she got this far -- and why she's not even close to finished.
"Dad got us started [surfing] super young. I grew up on the beach. It was more what my brothers did and we've got footage of us when I was super-young. They'd put me on their boards and take me out in the white wash. My dad was super into it.
"[For Tyler and Owen], even though we're very different, we do a lot of similar things, so being able to share and talk with someone on that kind of depth -- it's a rarity and I'm very fortunate that I get to travel with someone who is blood-related. He's very critically analytical on things like boards. I am learning; I wasn't that way before I got a coach. Now, I'm starting to become very analytical, very critically-thinking.
"Watching [Owen] come back in January of 2017 -- as much as I was so worried about him, there are two aspects to it. There is the mental/emotional side, and then the physical side. Watching him do that, it was just a really nice moment in time. I was already out [of competition] and I was kind of stoked that I was out - I know people won't quite understand that, but I could fully embrace his moment, which I've never been able to do, because I had to be in my own, you know?"
Wright considered quitting surfing in 2015, but she experienced a major shift in perspective at Trestles.
"It started with Owen. Which is not surprising, as a lot of big moments have always involved him. I was having an average year, I think I was fourth or fifth, and I didn't really care. At the event before, the U.S. Open, I started talking about finishing up and retiring at the end of the year. It wasn't coming from a bad place, just from a place of, well, I had a couple of fine years, maybe it's time to do something else. And then he and I had a heat, and he said, 'Have you ever considered that you're doing everything right but you're not on the right equipment? Have you ever thought it's not just mental?' I'm like,' What?' and he said, 'Maybe you're doing everything right but your boards need changing.' I tear myself apart mentally, which is very exhausting over a six-year period from when you're 16. It was like a light bulb moment. I surfed a heat against [WSL Women's World Tour champion] Carissa [Moore] and I had a big score and then I made an error in the next heat, and it was just like, it wasn't so much caring about winning as a general care. It just shifted.
"From that point, I started looking at things differently. Then my little brother [Mikey] pointed out, 'I don't understand how you can lose.' I said, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'Well, how do you lose? If you're thinking about retiring, you haven't actually done what you could've done.' And that was another moment. When Owen got hurt, he was meant to be working with our coach, Glenn Hall. I was kind of looking around, I hadn't really found anybody that would suit me, and I wasn't quite sure if I knew how to learn or if someone would take the time to teach me.
"Working with [Hall] opened up a whole new world of a way I've never viewed surfing. Then I was all in; I'm committed. There are two long-term goals that I have with him and they're the only things I'm truly committed to. First, I have this graph that breaks down the different elements of my surfing, like front side, back side, training, competition, etc. And I want to be at 100 percent in all those categories. When I first started with Glenn, my backside surfing, let's say it was at 30 percent, so we've spent the last year working tirelessly to get that above 50 percent. So it's like, when my scales don't change and my percentages are all at 100, that's when we can consider retirement. I hope that's a very long way away, which I get really stoked about, because I'd never seen a long surfing career.
"The second one is that I'm going to be really good. To me, what is valuable is that if throughout my entire career, if I can get to every year and be psyched to do it again -- that's probably the third big goal -- but yeah, to continually improve. I love breaking things apart and putting them back together and trying new lines, new angles and continually trying to evolve my style of surfing. I don't have many goals about being world champ 10 times or whatever, it's more, if I do this, I know that that's a high possibility.
"Winning and losing doesn't hold any value to me. It never has, and I'll be surprised if it does one day. Glenn has taught me how to learn, how to be taught, how to continue to grow and evolve my career into ways that I'm invested in. He's very detail orientated. I love specifics now, I love breaking down one of my best turns and pulling it apart and putting it back together. I'm fascinated by it all and how much improvement can come with learning the way he's teaching me. I love it, I love it. I didn't know this could be so easy in a sense of learning, improving and evolving. I find that fascinating.
"People were worried that I wasn't talking to anybody [when Owen was hurt]. I would walk up to training and I hadn't slept, and it's such an emotional subject because you see your brother in a state that you're so sensitive to, which opens you up to a lot more of an emotional side. Then Glenn one day, I think I did one session and he's like, 'If I'm going to push you and you haven't slept or you've had the most crazy 24 hours of emotional shit, I'm not going to push you. I'm not going to ask you to drop this, because look at you. You're not going to do it.' He brought a lot out and that's where our relationship became really like I do need to say, 'Hey, shit happened.'
"Eventually, going to the beach became easy. Sometimes, I think people took that as arrogance, but it was easier because life elsewhere was harder. So that's kind of where I gained perspective of it all, at the beach. I was a kid before this happened, and then it happened and I grew up.
"What I used to see in this world is completely different than what I see now. It was always, this is how you have to do it, go and sit here and I say, why? Tell me why? You need to explain to me the theory and the concept and the idea that goes into that because I don't understand. That's where Glenn's influence has come in and played such a massive role. I pretty much said, 'Look, I know nothing, teach me!' And having that realization came through myself and Owen. Owen was really good and smart in a way that he never pushed this on me. He kind of turned a light bulb on and then turned it off and it was like, 'Boom, change everywhere.'
"When I tore my MCL [in October 2017], I knew it was a little bad, and I had to have all those conversations with the doctors, and they told me I'd screwed my knee up and I'd most likely be out 2-3 months because of how much I use my knee. I'm very stubborn. So I said okay, but I didn't feel like I was really injured, I had all the conversations about doing it versus not doing it and how I'd feel in six months, five years, etc. My physio was flying to France to be at that event [the Cascais Women's Pro]. He saw it and was like, 'I've got you covered.' I said great, because I'd decided that I was doing it, surfing again this season. And he brought me back better than I was competing before the injury. He really did. The amount of work he did in that time was insane, and I'm very lucky.
"The world titles are different. Last year, it was a lot of reasons close to my heart, an unwavering dedication. This year, it was less about other people and more about myself and staying true to what I know of myself. This world title has been much more mellow. The ultimate goals we have within the sport still haven't changed, and Glenn and I still need time to process stuff about last year. His approach was very smart and his timing was perfect. It really drew the best out of me. I thought we did well in putting it together in the end.
"Even now, I'm always happy to be doing what I'm doing. I really get so much joy out of it. I'm supposed to rest my knee for three weeks, but I'm still in the water every day, just not surfing. I love the ocean; it's so sweet that this is what I get to call 'work.' I'm so excited."
We will publish on Wednesday, Dec. 20, the espnW list of the most impactful athletes in Australian women's sport through 2017.