Surfing history is littered with the abandoned, would-be idols of yesteryear. Surfers that showed promised for one, bright, shining moment before being pulled back into obscurity by whatever forces they failed to combat. It's a community obsessed with the cult of youth and the pressures that have historically been thrust onto young competitors over the past few decades have been ample.
That said, every generation bears witness to a few survivors that mature past their early successes and subsequent trials to become athletes of substance. The elite Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour is full of these individuals.
In 2008, then-14-year-old Tyler Wright tore through through the Trials at Manly Beach and earned herself a spot against surfing's titans at the Beachley Classic. She would go on to blitz elite surfers Stephanie Gilmore, Jacqueline Silva, Amee Donohoe and Silvana Lima to claim her first ASP WCT victory and set the sport's record as the youngest WCT victor ever.
The accolades, along with the anticipation and expectation, were sealed on that fateful day in October 2008 and Australia, a country that demands sporting champions, declared Wright's dominance a foregone conclusion. Surfing, however, does not always provide such a cut-and-dried path to success. Wright would take her time maturing before throwing her hat into the World Title race.
In 2010, another big win at Sunset Beach as a wildcard ushered in her rookie year the following season, but it would be two relatively quiet years before the powerful natural-footer decided that she was here for the Title. 2013 bore witness to Wright's rise up the rankings with wins on the Gold Coast and in Rio de Janeiro, battling Carissa Moore to the final event in Portugal.
A Runner-Up finish last season confirmed what pundits had been saying about Wright for five years: She's a contender. Still, now at this season's midway point, the Australian has yet to post an elite win, currently sitting at No. 4 on the rankings. The ASP caught up with Wright ahead of her start in Event No. 7 of 10 on the Samsung Galaxy ASP Women's World Championship Tour, the Vans US Open of Surfing to gain some insight as she embarks on her Huntington Beach campaign:
1 - Your parents had a fairly unorthodox style of parenting for you and your siblings when you were growing up. What were the best parts of it? What were the worst?
People looking in from the outside see an unorthodox childhood. To me, it was just the normal - I didn't know any better. The thing is, though, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. My family have shown me who I want to be...and who I don’t want to be. The close bond between my siblings and I is really indescribable when you get down to it...and one I couldn't imagine living without. No matter how much time and distance come between us, I always know they’re there. The worst part is we all have really twisted senses of humour and when we leave the sanctuaries of our homes or table conversations, all of us have to use filters. We all think we are pretty funny when we are together!
2 - What were the waves like where you grew up? How did they shape your surfing style? You moved to Lennox for a period of time before moving back - what were the reasons behind the moves and how did that affect your surfing?
You really have to visit the South Coast to be able truly understand what surfing was like for us growing up - insane beachies, reefbreaks, bombies, lots of lefts. Growing up there prepared me for pretty much any of the heavy waves I would encounter in my travels...plus, with my brothers, I wasn't ever allowed to pull back. It really is something spectacular - the older I get and the more I travel the world, the more I understand how incredible and lucky I was to grow up there. It's even better that I get to go home as often as I want now. When we moved to Lennox, I can definitely say that my forehand improved a great deal...guess it becomes pretty hard to look at a lefthander when you're flanked by perfect rights everywhere.
3 - You won the Beachley Classic at age 14 (an ASP record). How did you do that? What did it do for your confidence? For your career?
'How did I do it?'...just did. It was really simple - just go out and surf. I could handle that easy as I'd been doing it practically my whole life. What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the aftermath and what winning actually meant to the world. It was a lot to handle at the time. Before that, I didn't really have a career. I was just a kid surfing a lot and doing contests with my family. After that though, I grew up pretty quickly and was kind of expected to surf as my career. Not that I had a problem with that until I was a little older, and for quite a while, I was a unsure of myself and what I wanted to do. Eventually I figured it out though. It was three years later when I won my first event as a touring professional. I knew that I was where I needed and wanted to be.
4 - In 2011, your teammate (and hero?) Stephanie Gilmore left to sign with Quiksilver, rocketing you up to No. 1 team rider on the Rip Curl program. What were you feeling about that at the time? How do you view your role now?
Yeah...that was a shock. I don’t really get surprised by much, but Steph signing to Quiksilver definitely was. Not a lot of people know this - I signed with Rip Curl for a few major reasons...one of them being Steph. To be able to learn off someone like her was just mind-boggling. Not only the way Steph surfs - just the person that she is. At 16, it was something to aspire to so finding out a few weeks later that Steph didn't re-sign with Rip Curl was a shock. In the aftermath though, I can see why she did it and I'm really happy for her.
I'm not sure that it really rocketed me to No. 1 girls' team rider either. I’m way too big to try to squish into that box. I really don’t bother with trying to be the No. 1 either. It's not something that really enters my world. Most of the time I believe we share the responsibility as a team and if anyone does have the No. 1 position at Rip Curl, it would be Alana - an incredible surfer, model, designer, insane social media following and an amazing person with a hilarious personality.
5 - Last year, you went toe-to-toe in challenging for the Title. What was your head space like last season? Was that the best you had surfed up until then? Looking back, was there any particular moment that could have turned the race in your favor?
In 2013, I set out to just do my own thing so, half the time, I had no idea what I was doing and if it was the right thing for me. All I knew was that I was happy and content in finding out my own way of competing along with living. I wouldn't go as far to say that I matured last year, as I'm still a lil' shit, but I did allow myself to grow unguided on more of a personal level.
Relative to competing, the biggest thing was that I finally decided to compete. I chose surfing. It allowed me to stop competing half-heartedly, which always pissed me off because I don’t like half-assing things. I don’t think I surfed enough nor at my best a hundred percent of the time, but it was still the best surfing I'd done competitively. There's not much point in looking back at moments where you could have done things differently and asking, 'What if?' You’ll drive yourself into insanity. It ruins the point of learning from your mistakes.
6 - In addition to a busy year professionally, you also had a busy year personally with some family stuff going on. Your brother Owen has stated that you were the rock that your family rallied around. Your thoughts on that?
I laugh. My family is that exact thing for me. Along with a few select people, they are my everything and I would do anything for them. Everybody faces personal and professional challenges in life. You learn from them, grow from them and then move on - that's life. If you surround yourself with good people like my family are for me, it makes it a hell of lot easier and pretty hilarious.
7 - After winning the Billabong Rio Pro in 2013 on a Mayhem, Matt Biolos came out publicly and applauded your win, but also stated that he couldn't build boards for you while you were in the race with Carissa Moore. How did you deal with that last season? He's since lifted the embargo on building your boards for this year - did you have any conversations with him about it?
When Matt got back to us saying that he couldn't make me boards until the season's end, I actually respected him more for that than most could imagine. It showed true loyalty. I like that and I understood it. I just continued on what I was doing and didn't think it was that big a deal. I still had excellent boards being shaped for me by Jason Jameson and some boards from DHD and was happy. It has been excellent working with Matt over the last six months, though, and he's produced some great works of art.
8 - Speaking of Carissa Moore - is she the best female surfer in the world right now? If so, can the best be beaten...and beaten enough to claim the Title?
Yes and yes. Carissa is an amazing athlete, incredible surfer and an epic human. I really respect her, and what she has achieved in her career so far. We had a lot of fun competing for the World Title in 2013. I am not sure that's how it's meant to be! It probably would have made a better story if we were bitter rivals, but it wasn't about beating each other. It was about surfing and competing at our best, and ultimately pushing women’s surfing to new levels.
Everyone is beatable. Especially in our sport as there are so many factors you have to combine to win a heat, some you can control and others you can't. That's the beauty of our sport.
9 - Would you consider anything less than the ASP Women's World Title a failure for your career?
No. 'It's better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.' - Herman Melville.
Yes, I'd like to win one, but if I don't, it's not a failure. If I surf true to me and the way I want to, that's a success. Sure I will probably cop heaps of grief for not winning one - I've already received comical remarks about last year's efforts. I don’t place much value on the end result itself. For me, it's more about the journey. Surfing is a personal thing and an expression of art.
10 - Life after competitive surfing. What does it look like? What do you see yourself doing? Where? Do you still surf?
A hippie on a farm close to the beach on the South Coast with heaps of toys and animals. With big couches so when you walk into my home you can pretty much take nap anywhere creating a very chill environment. Family and friends will always be hanging out like villains. It will be a balanced setting. There would be no better place to raise a family with a gorgeous husband.
To be honest, I have hundreds of ideas of what I might be doing all vastly different, but there is always few reoccurring factors: family, nature, love...oh and pizza, I love pizza.
Watch Wright compete LIVE at the Vans US Open of Surfing starting Tuesday, July 30.