Surfing superstar Owen Wright said he felt “better, stronger and more excited than ever” to compete after an emotional and winning return to professional surfing at Surfest on Tuesday.
Wright surfed alone off the Merewether rocks in his four-man, round of 96 heat on Tuesday and showed the style and power that had him in world title contention before a wipeout at Pipeline in December 2015 left him with a brain injury.
The 27-year-old, the brother of women’s world champion Tyler Wright and the only surfer to post two perfect totals in one championship tour event, finished with best scores of 7.43 and 7.9 to easily win his heat with 15.33. He had three other scores above six as he pulled off powerful, perfectly-timed turns on both sides.
“That felt amazing,” Wright said after holding back tears while celebrating the win with family and friends.
“I got pretty emotional afterwards. I just had a lot for me building into it.
“It was no doubt the hardest year of my life and biggest roller-coaster, but once I got free of that, I feel on the other side of that now and feel better, stronger and more excited than ever to have this rash shirt on and compete.
“There was nothing I wanted more than just to go out there and smash a few waves and I got to do it, I was so stoked.”
Wright, a former world No.3, broke the day’s trend of surfing beach breaks, going to the extreme right end of the contest area and showing no fear of the rocks.
“I was watching everyone surf out here, and it was a bit of a gamble,” he said. “I could of just sat with everyone else and just surfed the heat with them, but there were just a few lefts and rights out there that caught my eye and there was a bit room to move on the face, and being a bit taller, that kind of plays into my favour.”
Wright, who gained a medical clearance last week to compete, has an injury wildcard into CT events and is using Surfest as a trial.
Asked what was in store for him this year, he said: “I’m just kind of soaking this moment in. I’ve worked really hard to get here, so just kind of soaking it in and enjoying being here with my partner and my little baby and showing them how I compete and having a lot of fun with all the guys, having a smile on face again and enjoying it all.”
Other headline acts fell by the wayside on day two of the 6000-point qualifying series Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro. Defending champion and top seed Matt Wilkinson and fellow CT surfers Stuart Kennedy, Ethan Ewing, Kanoa Igarashi and Julian Wilson exited.
Wright, meanwhile, was overwhelmed with the support he has received.
“I would like thank all my friends and family and the support from around the world I’ve had since I had the injury,” he said.
“It’s been absolutely incredible, just all the people writing in, to all the fans, and to realise how much love there is out there in the sport, and how much was sent my way to push me through that time is just incredible.
“I’m here now and I’m just absolutely so stoked to realise how much love there is still, and to be out here competing and back doing what everyone loves seeing me do and what I love doing as well.
“I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who has stuck by us and knew that I would be coming back and getting into it.”