With the Australian Leg of the Championship Tour set to kick off on April 1st, we're taking a look at four of the dreaded heat draws going into Newcastle. To be the best you gotta beat the best, and these are the toughest competitors on Tour.
After her statement-making start to the season in Hawaii, Tyler Wright's competitive fire is burning hotter than ever. As she heads into the Australian leg of the Tour sitting atop the WSL leaderboard and wearing yellow, it's going to be damn hard to get her to give up that jersey.
Wright's journey, from winning her first Championship Tour event at 14 years old, to claiming back-to-back World Titles just six years later, to her recent injuries has been well documented. In a recent ESPN profile, Wright was brutally honest about the 12 months of physical and mental trauma she suffered when she contracted a rare post-viral syndrome in July 2018.
"Overnight, I lost everything, what made me Tyler Wright," she told ESPN. "I lost my personality, my physicality. I'm used to excruciating amounts of pain, but the physical pain got so bad that it would mentally break me. And it broke me every day. I didn't get a minute where I was unbroken."
Yet Wright has emerged fitter and stronger. And, as evidenced by the Progress Pride flag emblazoned on her jersey in Maui, she has developed a new awareness of the role she can play in achieving equality for women, the LGBTQ+ community and black, brown and indigenous people.
In her first competitive event in 2020, the Tweed Coast Pro 2020, the natural-footer made headlines when she spent the first seven minutes of her opening heat kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter.
In many ways, Wright's compelling personal journey, given its twists, turns, triumphs, and heartache, has overshadowed her surfing.
While her BLM protest made international headlines, it is worth remembering she also won that event with a dominant display of her trademark power surfing. The two, of course, aren't mutually exclusive. Her personal development hasn't come at the expense of her cutting-edge surfing. In many ways, they have fed into each other.
"No one expects me to be more than a World Champion," Wright said after that win on the Tweed Coast. "It's up to me to expect more of myself."
To that end, she has enrolled at the University of New South Wales, where she plans to finish the high school education she missed when she became a professional surfer at 15. The grand plan is to start university the year after.
However, as she proved at the first event in Hawaii late last year, these additional endeavors haven't affected her will to win. In Maui, she scored the first 10-point ride of the season, then, when the competition was moved to Pipeline, she claimed victory.
Her performance at Pipeline showcased the maturity in her strategy and ability to build scorelines. This is the wave, after all, where both her brothers, Owen and Mikey, have suffered career-threatening injuries. She played it safe, smart and clinical. She had nothing to prove to anyone but herself and bagged the event win as a result.
"I don't take this for granted, to have this opportunity today is truly special," she said after her victory. "To compete and win at Pipe for the first time is incredible. All this still means a lot."
The start of the four-event Australian leg comes at a good time for Wright. Injury-free, and drumming to a new mantra to show that, "Surfing is for everyone," she is in a better place, both physically and mentally than when she won her two World Titles.
Add the fact that she hasn't had to undergo the grueling quarantine period that her greatest rivals like Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, and Caroline Marks have, means taking the yellow jersey off her will be a very difficult task indeed.
Watch the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona live April 1-11.