The celebration of potential before achievement. It's an unintended consequence of the constant search for the "next big thing" and universal throughout sports – professional surfing included. In point of fact, nowhere is this phenomenon more pervasive than in surfing where the next big thing has been the same man for the last three decades.
World Championship Tour event wildcards, for example, are often allocated to athletes long on talent but short on results because of that collective and insatiable appetite to champion something - or somebody - fresh and new.
Sometimes the hype holds up. Mostly it doesn’t though, at least not right away.
"...the next big thing has been the same man for the past three decades."
Charging out of the gates, these surfing “danger” men and women usually find themselves significantly wanting against competition from steeled and determined world title contenders. Their untested potential flinching in the face of veteran achievement.
That’s why when a ballyhooed but unproven “world-beater” talent actually produces results, it’s met with collective disbelief. And it’s also why one of the more captivating recent storylines in professional surfing was Owen Wright's initial assault on the world stage.
In 2009, a 19-year-old Wright received wildcards into the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and the Rip Curl Pro Search Portugal.
It remains the only time a wildcard bested Slater twice in a single season.
No matter. All the early predictions of Wright’s greatness were – for once - starting to ring true.
Flash forward. It’s 2011 and Wright makes history again with back-to-back-to-back Finals against Slater.
The two squared off in Tahiti, New York and Lower Trestles, with Wright coming out on top once, at the Quiksilver Pro New York - the richest surfing event in professional surfing history.
Wright would go on to finish 2011 season ranked No. 3 on the ASP WCT rankings.
Bells Beach - Sunday, March 31, 2013: competing in Round 2 against Dusty Payne in chunky six-to-eight foot surf, Wright suffered an awkward fall that compressed his back and ultimately forced him to withdraw.
Out of the event, Wright headed home for medical consultation and rehabilitation, while the surf world waited for word on his condition. What followed was 10 months of radio silence.
In an era of tireless self-promotion and social saturation, Wright's absence from the spotlight only fueled speculation. Misinformation swirled throughout the professional ranks.
There were rumors of imminent returns that conflicted with ones of a botched diagnosis. Those conflicted with whispers about burnout. Only one thing seemed clear – that Wright’s future in professional surfing wasn’t.
Previous episodes in the series: