‘This wave is not trying to kill me’: Resilient Wright looks to end career on a high at Bells BeachApril 16, 2023
Owen Wright has defied the odds before, and the upcoming Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach – his final World Surf League event before retirement – presents one last opportunity to do so again.
Wright had to relearn how to walk, talk and surf again after a traumatic brain injury suffered while surfing in 2015 turned his life upside down, but at his first event back in 2017 he claimed the Quiksilver Pro at Snappers Rocks.
Owen Wright is finishing his career at Bells Beach.Credit:Dan Peled
From then, he knew he was capable of achieving anything, including an unlikely title at Bells in the next fortnight to cap off his remarkable career.
“I always draw back to the time when I was coming back from my head injury, I was barely surfing, and I won the first event back,” Wright said on the eve of the Rip Curl Pro.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to show up, put the rashie on, put your foot in the ring, and you never know what can happen in surfing.”
The 33-year-old has decided not to put his head at further risk of injury, after squeezing every ounce of juice out of a career that has produced four victories on the WSL plus a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, which transcended the sport.
Concussion remains an area of concern in surfing, Wright says significant ground has been made up to make the sport safer.
“I think [concussion] is something there that my incident years ago has started to bring light to it,” he said.
“We’ve just been making great changes. There are helmets at our heavy water events now. There are good protocols in place. I think it’s an issue, but we’ve had the right support, and I’m here making the right decision in front of the kids coming up, to show them there will be a time when you’ve had the knocks to press the eject button and step out for good health.”
Importantly, Wright says he’s in a healthy place to go out on his own terms, in front of family and friends and a local crowd.
Owen Wright with wife Kita and daughter Rumi at last year’s Ripcurl Pro at Bells Beach.Credit:Beatriz Ryder/World Surf League
“My health’s good. I’ve had a lot of knocks over my career, so it’s time for me to not put myself in those risky situations any more,” he said.
“It’s Bells, it’s manageable, it’s not risky, it’s not Pipe or Sunset … this wave is not trying to kill me. I’m just really looking forward to celebrating this one. I’ve had a great time considering the wipe outs I’ve had, and the down moments.”
“It’s Bells, it’s manageable, it’s not risky, it’s not Pipe or Sunset … this wave is not trying to kill me.”
He’ll kick off his final event perhaps as early as Tuesday should the conditions suit, in a heat that includes 2022 world champion and reigning Bells Beach victor Filipe Toledo.
“I would love a heat with those guys and them surfing at their best,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve done my whole career at this level. I love competing, I love trying to surf my best, and it’s been about those challenges my whole time. I would cherish it if I was out with Filipe, and he got two nines and I got two better nines.
“I know I can surf rain hail or shine, whether I’m in good health, poor health, however it is, I know I can perform. I’ve lived and breathed surfing for a long time. I’ve got the support of the Aussies, I’ve got my family and friends here, I’m feeling really good. Who knows what can happen.”
He’ll also have younger sister Tyler Wright in his corner, reigning Bells Beach women’s champion and arguably his biggest supporter.
“It is really special [sharing the tour with Tyler],” he said.
“Someone asked me what are you going to miss most, and I said, I’m probably going to miss seeing my sister every second week. Already I haven’t seen her since Christmas, and I’m seeing her now, and it’s almost Easter.
Owen Wright, surfing at the 2019 Rip Curl Pro Portugal.Credit:World Surf League
“We’ve travelled on the tour side by side for a long time, cheering each other up, and her winning here last year and what not. It’s been a beautiful sport like that. I’ve been there for her down moments and vice verse, she’s been there for me. She’s really happy to see my decision and hear my decision and have me prioritise my health and my family.”
Having been sponsored by Rip Curl since he was 10, about the same time he, Tyler and the rest of his family started making annual bus pilgrimages to Bells, Wright said there was no better event to surf off into the sunset.
“I’ve just been spending these last few days just cherishing [everything],” he said.
“I’ve had a career with a lot of up and down moments, and I’ve had a bit of time to reflect in this last little bit, and I’ve come to this realisation what a wild journey and amazing experience this whole tour is.
“To be walking down those steps here at Bells, I feel like all those [career moments] are just popping through my mind as I get to paddle out at Bells. I’ll be patting myself on the back thinking, ‘Good work man, happy days ahead’.”
The Rip Curl Pro runs from April 4 to 14.
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