OWEN Wright could barely contain the emotion, after returning to competitive surfing for the first time since suffering a major head trauma.
Already handed a wildcard on this year’s world tour, Wright dominated his first heat in round two of the qualifying series event at Newcastle on Tuesday.
For all the pain, sickness and setbacks on the long road to recovery, after a fall while surfing at Pipeline in 2015, Wright reminded everyone of his remarkable talent. “It felt amazing,” Wright said.
“Gee, I got pretty emotional afterwards.
“(It was) no doubt the hardest year of my life and biggest rollercoaster.
“I feel on the other side of it now, I feel better and stronger and more excited than ever to have this rash shirt on again and compete.”
Wright responded to Brazilian Luel Felipe score of 8.17 with a 7.90 to ensure he won heat 13, having previously posted a 7.43.
In the end, Wright’s 15.33 edged Filipe on 14.34, with American Nathan Yeomans (12.90) and another Brazilian, Alan Donato, making up the four-man battle.
But victory was a secondary success, in comparison to the physical triumph of being fit and healthy again.
The battle the 27-year-old, from Culburra and living at Thirroul, faced provided inspiration to sister Tyler’s charge to her maiden crown last year.
Wright himself finished third on the tour in 2015, when he posted perfect 10s in Fiji.
Amid any frustration during his recovery, there was also the joy of son Vali with partner Kita Alexander. His family were at the front of his mind after riding to shore.
“I’m soaking this moment in,” he said. “I’ve worked really hard to get there, so (I’ll) just soak it in with my little baby, just showing them how to compete again.”
While Wright has so far avoided publicly discussing the seriousness of his head injury and the complications in rehabilitation, he was grateful for the support he has received from friends, rivals and the wider community.
“It’s been absolutely incredible,” he said. “Just all the people writing in and all the fans, to realise how much love there is out there in this sport.
“To push me through that time is incredible.
“I’m here now and absolutely so stoked … to be out there competing and to be back doing everyone loves seeing me do and what I love doing as well.”
Wright’s win came after Wollongong’s Nic Squiers won his heat, which included fellow Aussie Wade Carmichael. Squiers opened with an 8.33, edging Carmichael out with a heat score of 14.66.