Tyler Wright won her first World Tour event at the age of 14. From that moment on she was thrust into the non-stop grind of competitive surfing. Today, at age 22, the Culburra Beach native won her third world tour event of the year, the Oi Rio Pro. And though she hasn't yet won a World Title over those eight years, she's continually lead the sport and remained near—if not on—the top of the women's rankings.
Most people hear that story and think it's pretty close to a best case scenario. But for Tyler it wasn't. At 19 years old, she woke up one day and realised that she didn't quite know who she was.
"Yeah, at the end of last year I was going to quit," she told me in 2013, over a jar of Nutella in Portugal. "I was over it… Fuck this shit!" It was the day after she'd been mathematically ruled out of winning the title, and our conversation touched on how she'd almost walked away from the tour completely one year earlier. She'd lost her love of competitive surfing and was uneasy with the person it had helped her become. "In my mind I had to surf because that was all I had; there was nothing else that I could do with my life, no other doors. And it got to a point where I was a completely unhappy human. It was really, really bad."
But with the help of her family, and sage advice from her older brother Owen Wright—who is also on the World Tour—she got through that rough patch. She started taking the tour less seriously. In fact, for the next two years, she won contests solely off the back of raw talent. She wasn't focusing, training or giving it her all. When she won contests she'd laugh and shirk off the praise, instead giving it to her opponent. When she lost, she's laugh and shirk off the loss, like it didn't even matter to her (most likely, because it didn't).
But at the end of 2015, something switched inside Tyler. We heard a few post-heat interviews where she actually said that she was disappointed in herself, and that she had wanted to win.
2016 is the first full year of the new Tyler Wright—one that has actually committed to winning. This is the first year where losing a contest hurts her, and winning the World Title is really, really important.
And having taken out every WSL event, bar one, this year—you'd have to agree it's working for her.
Part of the change can be attributed to Glenn "Micro" Hall, an ex-World Tour surfer who has taken up the role of coach. Micro seems to be a bit of a SuperCoach at the moment—he's also coaching Matt Wilkinson this year, and Wilko has not only achieved his first ever event win, but his second as well.
Almost every time Tyler talks about her achievements in 2016, she thanks Micro profusely. After her event win, I texted her team manager to see if she'd give us a li'l quote… Tyler replied in person saying this:
"Yeah! Really stoked on my performance today. Everything Crow [Micro] and I have been working on seems to be sticking. Jessi [Miley-Dyer – the Women's World Tour Commissioner] did great with the call, even though the conditions were tricky. The swell kept picking up and absolutely flogging us, no matter where we were in the line. It's only getting bigger now, and I'm stoked we wrapped today! I wish all the boys good luck!"
But just the simple fact that Tyler even took the step of hiring a coach, of dedicating herself in that full-on manner, speaks volumes for her desire to do well. She's begun repeating the mantra that she "wants it" and she "knows that she can do it" and "knows that she can win, if she goes out and gives it her all". And judging by the results thus far, she ain't lyin'.
But there may be another factor coming into play here. See, she and her brother Owen have always been extremely close—their whole family is tight. At Pipeline in December of last year, Owen was held under during a huge set. When he finally reached the surface, after being thrown around on the reef like a dishrag, he felt winded but fine. He paddled in and lay down to take a nap at the RipCurl team house. When he woke up, he was dizzy, disoriented and sick. He was taken to hospital and assessed as severely concussed.
He's currently in recovery, which all reports are suggesting will be successful and complete, but it's not something that the family—or anyone else—has taken lightly. Tyler has been dedicating her wins not only to Micro, but also to Owen. She's been there every step of his recuperation.
All of the above may help explain Tyler's newfound determination. Maybe we're way off. But whatever the reasons, they've obviously done their job. She's well and truly en route to her first World Title—and isn't it fitting that she actually, y'know, wants it?