With one of the most intense World Title races in recent pro surfing history unfolding over the past two days, the pressure at Maui's Honolua Bay has been palpable. But Thursday at the Maui Women's Pro, Australian Tyler Wright put an end to the yearlong struggle when she clinched her second consecutive World Title with a Quarterfinal rout over wildcard Brisa Hennessy.
Tyler seized on her earliest opportunity to clinch, after Californian Courtney Conlogue lost in Round Four. Conlogue, who arrived on Maui ranked World No. 3, was the last remaining obstacle to Wright's win. The moment that Conlogue lost, Wright had just one, final mission before she could claim the throne: win the Quarterfinal, and win the Title. And she did it in Champion-like fashion. She opened with a solid score and found the tube of the day on her second wave. By then, it was clear to everyone -- from the sandy cliffs overlooking the bay to the casual fans from afar -- that Wright's reign would continue. In the end, Hennessy needed a combination of waves to catch up, but bowed out gracefully, with a respectful splashing of the water to celebrate her opponent's big coup.
Ever the picture of poise, Wright was graceful in her post-heat interview. "I was happy before I won, and I'm just as happy now," she said, still in the lineup.
Wright's campaign to win her second Title back-to-back started practically as soon as she won her first one at the France event in 2016. She showed up for the first event of 2017, the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, with her game face ready for battle. While she finished in the Quarterfinals at that event, she only went up from there, making her way to an event win by the time the Tour got to Rio, in May. Wright's only real stumble was in September, when she finished in ninth at the Swatch Pro at Trestles, and then in France a month later, when she tore the internal ligament in her right knee (the MCL) and lost in the second round.
Yet even in that moment, a point that would end most people's seasons, much less their Title runs, Wright's profound dedication to winning revealed itself. After tearing her ligament and getting assessed, she got some treatment and was outfitted with a massive knee brace to stabilize her knee. And then, inexplicably, she paddled out for her Round Two heat at the Roxy Pro France. No, she didn't win that battle. But just four weeks later in Maui -- still sporting that knee support -- she won the 2017 race.
Like her season overall, Wright came in hot at Honolua Bay, and never let go. In her Quarterfinal heat, in which she faced wildcard Brisa Hennessy, she literally surfed laps around her opponent with an 8.50 and then a 7.60. What also helped were early defeats of her closest rivals for the Title. First, Sally Fitzgibbons, who arrived on Maui ranked World No. 1, lost in her Round Two heat there. Next, Courtney Conlogue, who landed ranked World No. 3, had a shocker of a loss in Round Four. That all played right into Wright's winning hand. By then, the only thing standing between her and a second silver trophy was a Quarterfinal win.
Wright pulled off that minor feat with aplomb, as the tension on the cliffs rose with every wave. While Hennessy -- who had done Wright the favor of eliminating Fitzgibbons just one day prior -- did her best, the Champ simply decimated the long, rolling rights with a combination of power and savvy wave selection. The cheering for Wright began with fewer than two minutes left on the clock. It likely won't stop until it's time to go for Title number three.