Fiji, Fiji, Fiji how we love thee.
And so does Mr. Owen Wright.
Wright has yet to live up to his promise and arguably Rip Curl’s investment in him. Injury and bad luck have plagued one of the sports potential greats. Yet the Culburra boy everyone calls The Avatar has proved himself in the big stuff while his run of toe-to-toe finals with Slater and his win in New York in 2011 showed he could put together anything anyone else can, but with a little more flair and a little less talk. That was four years ago, a lifetime in professional surfing. He could easily have faded into a repping job or a team manager’s role yet this year he has quietly ripped his way up the rankings (13,5,9,5) until he launched himself at Cloudbreak hungering for blood.
Everyone received a memo at the beginning of the year with the subject: Don’t forget guys – Froth to the max!
While the event was held in B-grade Restaurants and Cloudbreak it was enough to have the pundits gushing (Am I the only one thinking that everyone received a memo at the beginning of the year with the subject: And don’t forget guys – Froth to the max!?). The judges too seemed overly excited and the event was full of 9’s and 10’s. Slater and Parkinson are the only two athletes to have two perfect heats (two ten point rides) but they weren’t in a single event. The Avatar was about to smash that. He nailed his colours to the mast early with a Round Five perfect heat, and we should have seen it coming.
Final’s day saw a bit of showboating from Italo Ferreira who took down Slater in Round 5 yet seems to have come out of nowhere. He left Fiji ranked five places higher than Brazil’s first world champ, Medina. But in the Quarters he was against a ruthless Julian Wilson who simply committed more and marched to the semis with his eyes firmly on the podium. Burrows pig-dogged his way through some bumpy barrels to remove Wiggolly Dantas in the second quarterfinal, while Parko and Wright went head-to-head in a fairly even contest that saw Wright progress. Kai Otten risked his neck to get out of Combo-land, but while the medics scarped him off the reef Florence progressed.
You can’t say that Wilson didn’t do everything he could to win. On paper the final could have gone either way, although a betting man might have looked in Wilson’s favour. Yet anyone who witnessed the stand-up barrels and aggressive hacks and gouges Wright let loose on Florence in the semis would also have noted the flawless positioning and timing, and placed his money on the Avatar.
Wright carried this momentum and finesse into the final and opened with a 7.50. Wilson repeatedly launched himself into the blue, grabbing and dragging himself deep into the azure pits then scratching for the light, yet he seemed only to find pigs. With only five minutes to the buzzer Wright had already apparently taken the event, then he turned and went on a beauty.
The Avatar threaded a stand-up barrel and blasted into the channel to collect his third ten of the event
The Avatar threaded a stand-up barrel and blasted into the channel to collect his third ten of the event. Anyone watching the live feed couldn’t help but see Wright’s stoke, hooting and pumped he boarded the ski back to the point and had himself another with two minutes to go. Exploding out of this one too the Aussie silenced his doubters, grabbed another perfect heat and cemented his place in the history books. The last wave was the best wave of the event and possibly the year so far. It’s hard to imagine how it could be beaten.
The Brazilians hang on to their leads as Wright moves into third and we all head to J-Bay. Wilko’s attack last year showed that a good swell in Africa could lend itself to backhand surfing yet with a healthy Jordy and, of course Parko, the Avatar might need to focus on Tahiti to concrete his position and put him in contention for his first world title.