CULBURRA Beach’s Owen Wright claimed victory at the weekend’s at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast - the opening stop on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).
In four-to-six foot (1-2m) waves at the world-famous Snapper Rocks, Wright claimed his third CT victory by defeating close friend and teammate Matt Wilkinson in what was one of the most inspiring comebacks in surfing history.
Wright sat out the entire 2016 season due to a career-threatening, traumatic brain injury he suffered on Oahu’s North Shore in Hawaii in 2015 and the Quiksilver Pro marked his triumphant return to the Championship Tour after accepting the injury wildcard for 2017.
The win is his best ever result on the Gold Coast and earns Wright the top spot in the world rankings.
“At the start of February, I was sitting in the doctor’s office and there were question marks on the year,” Wright said.
“So to be sitting here right now, we just pushed hard and went hard.
“I confronted every fear of getting back into it.
“There were a lot of fears I needed to push through in order to get back into the sport and back into what pretty much took me out and could have taken me out forever.
“I kept going and kept doing it. I am just so stoked.
“I couldn’t have done it without all the support of my friends and family, including my partner and my little baby boy.
“We just kept going and the team just kept saying, ‘keep breaking it down,’ and ‘keep going Owen, keeping getting back there.’
“This is what I love – this is what I love doing.”
The Quiksilver Pro final saw Wright take on Wilkinson in a thrilling battle of the goofy-footers.
Both surfers went wave for wave, but it was Wright who claimed the win with an excellent 8.33 and 6.33 by showcasing his powerful backhand snaps.
Wilkinson, with two six-point rides, was not able to deliver the required scores to defend his event title.
“To be in another final here is a dream,” said Wilkinson.
“I obviously wanted to win but Owen (Wright) has made me cry about five times this week.
“To see him last year was one of the toughest things I’ve ever seen and for Owen to be in the this event is one of the most amazing things, but to go and win is incredible.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better person to beat me. He’s inspired me so much and to come back and do this is unreal.
“Coming into the event this year I did have a sneaky bit of confidence but you do think about all the work that the others have put in on the off season.
“Now I guess I feel a lot more confident and I feel like my surfing is the best it’s ever been so I’m really excited to go for the world title.”
Owen’s sister and reigning-world champion Tyler Wright was knocked out in the Roxy Pro quarter-finals by United States’ Lakey Peterson, while younger brother Mikey lost to reigning men’s world champion John John Florence, from Hawaii, in the third round.
Fellow South Coast surfer Sally Fitzgibbons looks set for a big 2017 after reaching the semi-finals of the Roxy Pro, only to be knocked out by eventual champion Stephanie Gilmore.
The tour now heads west for the Margaret River Pro, which runs from March 29 to April 9 – one of five CT events Tyler Wright won in 2016.