Sustaining injuries -- and coming back from them -- is a big part of any professional surfer's life. With the sport's elite continually pushing the boundaries both in bigger waves and with the amplitude and speed of airs, major injuries have become a matter of when, not if. And yet, some of the best performances in Round Two of the Australian Open of Surfing QS6,000 were from surfers who have overcome serious injuries and are now looking toward qualification at the elite level.
Alejo Muniz was impressive in progressing through his heat and is one example of a competitor who has repeatedly come back from major injuries over the course of his career. The 27-year-old Brazilian burst onto the Tour in 2011 with a remarkable Top 10 rookie finish. However, since 2013, a recurring knee injury has seen him miss events and yo-yo between the Championship Tour (CT) and Qualifying Series (QS).
In 2015, Muniz suffered just one of a handful of crushing blows. Having worked all year on the QS to qualify for the 2016 elite CT, he blew his knee apart at the Quiksilver Pro France, where he was surfing as a wildcard. That meant yet another six months off, missing the first two events of the CT schedule. He never recovered. He finished the year injured again, and returned to the QS to take another shot at qualification.
Since then, Muniz has since gone through yet another exhaustive rehabilitation program and is now back to his best form. In his first event back, last week in Newcastle, it took the eventual winner, Yago Dora, to take him down on the way to a fifth place. This week, in crisp conditions at Manly, his trademark forehand hacks and some big spinners have served him well. It's just more proof that Muniz has regained the zip and strength that makes him one of the world's best.
Mikey Wright, another of Round Two's standouts, has also dealt with a serious injury. And has fought back to become one of the most dangerous and compelling surfers on the QS. While his three-month lay off due to ankle ligament damage suffered last year is put in perspective by the severity of the head injury (and comeback) suffered by his brother Owen, it was still a significant speed bump in the 21-year-old's full-throttle approach to life and competition.
Now fully fit and back to surfing at Mach 10 speed, Wright has a burning desire to join his siblings Owen and Tyler at the elite level of the sport. His patience in waiting for the right wave with just minutes to go, and then way he tore it to shreds, indicates a fully fit and functioning Wright is ready to make his push towards the big leagues.
Leonardo Fioravanti is a surfer who has already made the big leagues, but it's worth remembering that it was only in February 2015 that the Italian broke two vertebrae in his back while surfing Pipeline. Rehab through 2015 led to a blistering 2016 CT qualification campaign. In Manly he looks as sharp as ever, logging a total of 14.60 to win his Round Two heat.
"The injury taught me how to appreciate what I have and what I could have lost," he told the WSL last year. "It's also made me look after my body better. It was a pretty harsh lesson, and I would never have chosen it, but some positives have come out of the whole painful experience."
In that sentiment, he is clearly not alone on tour.