They say that the best stories of triumph are those which began with tragedy – and there isn’t a better triumph-over-tragedy story from 2016 than that of women’s World Surfing champion Tyler Wright.
Just over a year ago, on the French leg of the tour, the same spot where a year later she would clinch the crown, Tyler Wright lost her uncle. It was also the first inkling that hinted 2016 would be the year the young surfer from Shoalhaven, NSW would chase her maiden world title.
— tyler wright (@tylerGwright) August 16, 2016
“I finally realised the difference between someone that doesn’t care and someone that cares. And I care,” Wright said at the time, in a post-heat interview.
Tragedy struck the Wright family again several weeks later when Tyler’s brother and professional surfer Owen Wright sustained a serious head injury surfing Pipeline in a warm-up session for the final event of the year. Owen was in contention for a world title win before a series of waves landed on his head, putting him in hospital and out of the race.
— SafeMate (@SafeMateAU) July 24, 2016
Their father, Rob Wright, said Tyler had played a key role in her brother’s recovery.
“Right through, as soon as Owen was injured, she stayed by his side,” Rob said.
“Didn’t leave his side the whole time, slept beside his bed at the hospital and didn’t leave him.”
And so sporting a number 3 jersey – Owen’s number – instead of her usual 13, Tyler did exactly what she set out to do a year earlier and won her first world title in France, the place her uncle last saw her surf.
“I promised my uncle, even though he’d already passed away, that I’d win it this year,” Tyler said.
“And it’s the last event he ever saw me surf; that was the most important thing.”
It’s possible the 22-year-old was always destined for a world title. With three brothers and a sister all into surfing, Tyler grew up in the water.
The family would often pack themselves into a Toyota Coaster and travel around Australia entering in all the junior surfing events.
In an interview in 2008, Rob Wright said it’s a parent’s job, if their child excels at anything, to go all out to help them follow their dreams – so that’s what he and his wife, Fiona, do.
And it would seem they did a good job of it.
At the mere age of 14, Tyler took out the Layne Beachley Classic, beating international surfing stars and becoming the youngest surfer to win a world tour event.
“Being a little country girl of 14 coming up against the world’s best, no sense of intimidation or self-doubt, she just rose to the occasion and took us all down,” seven-time world champion Beachley said.
“I’ve always rated her as world championship material, and it was great to see her have the courage to declare such an audacious goal.”
“Her actions spoke volumes. Every day she stepped into that. She started the year with a win. As she gained more confidence in her ability, she became even more unstoppable and then she just became like a tsunami.”
Tyler first entered the World Tour in 2011, winning fourth place and Rookie of the Year honours. Since then, she has never placed lower than fifth, with two second-place finishes in 2013 and ’14.
With the final event of 2016 not yet over, Tyler Wright already has her eyes set on the 2017 world title.
“Everything I’ve learnt this year I’m now going to put into 2017 and that makes me really excited, really intrigued and curious.”