One of the real joys of sport is watching a gifted athlete become fully attuned to the environment in which he or she competes. This week, 25-year-old Owen Wright redefined The area when he scored four 10-point rides for two perfect runs in absolutely stunning conditions at Cloudbreak during the World Surf League’s Fiji Pro. “I just got that rhythm with the ocean,” Wright told SI.com.
When he scored his first perfect score against Adam Melling in round five – surfers are judged on their best two waves for a maximum total score of 20 – it was only the seventh time a surfer had done it in competition. And when the Aussie dropped a 20 on Julian Wilson in the final, he was alone in history.
“Every once in a while a surfer syncs up with a break to a point where they’re on a higher level,” says Matt Warshaw, the former editor of Surfer magazine and author of The Surfing Encyclopedia. “Owen hit this place in Fiji to a degree never before seen. And what I loved was that he seemed as surprised and bewildered as everyone else.
After Wright emerged from gaping barrels and fearlessly attacked 12ft walls of water with critical turns, he screamed in pure delight, waving his fists and pointing at the boats where his fellow competitors and friends cheered him on. . That emotion was something fans could relate to as most have to compete and look for waves at their home spots (albeit in far less deadly conditions). And once in a while, the everyday surfer will enter the zone and find the best waves of the session, one of the reasons Wright’s two-day ride was so inspiring. “I felt like home, like paddling on my break at home, catching all the right waves,” he said. “But this was happening at Cloudbreak during a World Tour event. I was so comfortable, taking whitewater takeoffs, pulling under the lip. I was a little surprised myself there.
It was certainly a moment of truth for the talented New South Wales surfer who had had his share of firsts before a debilitating back injury derailed his 2013 and 2014 campaigns: in 2011, when he finished third overall, he and Kelly Slater reached three consecutive finals together in Tahiti, New York and Lower Trestles in Southern California. But even the 11-time champion couldn’t match this one. “I said something to Kelly when I got back to the boat like, ‘Hey, that’s something you usually do.’ He’s like, ‘No, I never did.’ We definitely have a benchmark now. I’m still blown away: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’ve done it twice in the same event.
The World Surf League is coming to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, July 8-19
Saying hello to his mates on the boat after his second 10 in the final: