Pro chat: Tyler Wright

Credit: C.Lallande

Slightly different format for this week’s Pro Chat. We’re stoked to have a full on feature interview with Tyler Wright following her defeat to Carissa Moore in the 2013 ASP Women’s World Title race. It’s a cracking, immersive and insightful read into Tyler, one of the most exciting young surfers in the world right now enjoy!

Words by Mimi LaMontagne

It’s about 37 degrees and I’m a crispy French fry, one of the many, standing on La Praia Guincho, scrutinising with expert journalistic ability, the quarterfinals of the EDP Cascais [the final event of the 2013 ASP Women’s World Tour. Tyler Wright is in the water… if she loses this heat she’s out of the race; if she wins, the title could be hers. You can sense a weight lingering over the crowd as ripples of silence waver past, overcome for the first time by the smooth jazz-trance music playing on the speakers. This DJ should be sacked.

On my left is Tyler’s mum, Fiona, sister Kirby and team manager Brooke, playing cards and listening to their portable. Not exactly an expected reaction when your girl is about to make or break her season, and in particular when you’re talking about a family as supportive as the Wrights.What gives?

We’ve all seen that competitive streak rear its obnoxious head, so when the horn blows and it’s clear Tyler is toast [so Carissa Moore will take the 2013 ASP Women’s Title] I brace my pen and paper for a life lesson in anger management. But as her face comes to focus in the whitewash, she doesn’t look angry at all. In fact, she looks… happy?

I watch her, closely. Forgive the creepiness. There wasn’t a sense, even a touch, of devastation or frustration as she came in from the churning sea, at least not what you would expect from the hefty weight of winning and losing the stakes. She seemed… jubilant. A bit out of character?

That afternoon I sat down with Tyler and her family, trying to get underneath what had just unfolded down on the Portuguese shore. We laughed, we cried, we ate two jars of Nutella, and six hours later I brushed the surface. This is her story.

Train, surf, sleep, train. World Tour. World Title! This was what consumed a very young, very serious Tyler Wright. On a surfboard before she could swim, fins in the air before the grade school bell – an addict without a cure. Structure, discipline, this is my path. The scales have been tipped to a heavy lilt and there’s nothing else in the world but that solitary goal. Friends, school, movies, they’re foreign languages. And it added up for Tyler, a face of the World Tour from 16 years old. Live to work? Work to live? Obsession is known to end badly, and last year Ms Wright paid the price. So what happened… Tyler is smiling and the title is gone.

Credit: Stuart Gibson

At the end of last year I was going to quit. I was over it.,F#*k this shit! I realised that I didn’t like what I was doing anymore, and more so that I didn’t even like myself. My entire life had been so serious, the sport was everything and it defined who I was. 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. I didn’t even want to be around anymore. The only people that knew were my closest crew, because they paid attention, especially Kirby [her sister]. Constantly asking me questions… ‘Why don’t you care?’ ‘Why don’t you have any feelings?’ ‘Why do you actually just not give a f#*k?’

Kirby Wright is more than a sister; she’s the Robin to Tyler’s Batman, the Lois Lane to her Clark Kent [their comparison, not ours – Ed]; the two are an inseparable couple that make you want to cry and throw up at the same time. Last year, they broke up.

She comes with me on all my tour stops, and all of a sudden we just turned into polar opposites. We really hated each other, and nobody could figure out what was going on. She’s been my best friend my whole life, and I was in such a bad place everything stopped working. Then came 8/8/12, that was the day my life changed. Owen [Wright, her pro surfer brother] sat us both down and said, ‘Look, I’m going to talk at you. You will not say a word and you will listen, whether you want to or not’. He really knew, he got it and that was massive. He knew something needed to change or it was going to get worse, and I was already at rock bottom. ‘Look, Ty, you don’t have to do the tour. You’re an adult now and you don’t have to let people dictate your life anymore. You can control it. You have to make your own decision, otherwise you’ll get sick of it. You have all these options on one hand, it doesn’t matter how they got there, but that’s it. Once you take it, it’s yours, and you made that choice.’ For the first time in four years I cried. I didn’t cry, ever, before that; I was like a rock, and now I’m a marshmallow. I don’t think anyone actually knows how much Owen changed my life that day. He opened doors that I never thought existed.

Owen took a glowstick, broke it and threw it down a well. And then things changed. So what do you do? Everything I’ve been working for is inconsequential. It makes me unhappy. So what does make you happy?

I didn’t surf for months after Huntington. Instead, I started doing things that I simply wanted to do, and that was it. If surfing came back into my life because I genuinely wanted to go surf that was great. If not, fine. I did things that I had always wanted to do, but never thought I had the freedom. I bought a puppy. Hi, Mortuma! I went on a month-long snowboarding trip. They never let me go during the season, in case I get hurt. I bought a motorbike. I told myself that I was going to, years before, when I made tour. I never did.And then eventually I started having this urge to go surfing.I really want to go surfing. Do you reckon I should do it?Out of my entire life, this year is the least amount of time I’ve spent in the water. I surf when I want to, and I don’t make myself… there’s no force whatsoever.

After months of gleeful gallivanting, the clock ticks over and eventually strikes midnight; the fairytale’s over and it’s time to get on with it. So the heat draw at the BreakaBurleigh Pro has been released, and guess whose name is on it. It’s just a test, see if things still work. By the end of the week, Tyler lost her shit again.

It’s like I’m a drug addict. I have these moments… these lapses where I just wig out. There have only been two events this year that I’ve been able to keep it together for, Snapper and Bells among the worst. When I won in Coolangatta, the way I went into those heats went against everything that I had always been taught… my whole philosophy. There was only ever one way to be successful in competitions, one way of living my life; I had just thrown it out the window. The winning part wasn’t a big deal, it was what was going on mentally. All those rules,thrown away. With a set plan I could predict the outcome, but now I have no idea what my choices will lead to. It was so easy the other way, so structured.

She doesn’t free surf in the mornings; she goes to bed late and wakes up early; she eats what she wants and that’s an obscene amount of chocolate; she watches TV all day; she does what she wants and no one-can tell her otherwise. But how do you stop an addict from relapsing?

At Bells I got second place in one of the most epic female competitions to date, and all I wanted to do was go home. I surfed the final the wrong way; going back to who I was, not who I wanted to be. Calculation. Stability. I couldn’t handle it. I guess there are two different ways to lose – the way I want to lose and the way I hate to lose. If I have to lose I’m going to go out there and just surf, do dumb shit, because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. In New Zealand I was psyching on a ninth, because I surfed how I wanted to.Sure, I lost the heat, but I won at life. Numbers, titles, it’s not what this year has been about for me. Some people seem to base their self worth off a title, but that’s not me. That’s why, when I lost the title, I got out of the water smiling. Without putting in the swear words, I was just thinking, Wow, I’ve achieved everything that I wanted to THIS YEAR. From where I was before, it was such an incredible moment.

Last year Owen lit up a realisation and released the tension, the pressure, the struggle. This year, Tyler overcame the person she’s taught herself to despise: that deeply entrenched competitive mongrel that has been thriving within her for years. Nature vs nurture, instincts so thoroughly engrained they go beyond your own desires. So what about the assholes still asking, Tyler, you’re living the dream; you’re doing what everyone in the world can only imagine! Why aren’t you grateful? Why can’t you be happy and stop worrying so much?

My whole life people have told me how happy I should be because of my job, and that’s how I realised that’s not what it’s all about. You take it all away, the money, the cars, the trips, the houses, not that I have houses, the cool shit we get to do on tour… you take it away and what are you left with? You’re left with family, with yourself and who you are as a person. I didn’t like who I was. You used to see glimpses of this person, this upbeat funny human, but it would always get hidden back away. I know that I was too serious, especially when it came to surfing. Now I’m a funny human all the time. Always be yourself, because being somebody else is way too hard.

If you look back over the past year of interviews with Tyler, you’ll see she’s done just that. Never interview her, it’s like pulling teeth. She doesn’t give you anything you can use. She answers like a total bitch. These are just a few of the warnings that circulate the media. But, who trusts them anyways…

People absolutely grilled me. They would say ‘Be yourself, but don’t say this, and make sure you mention this’. You freaking hypocrite! You need to dress this way. You need to talk this way. If people think I’m weird, then I’m weird! I’m different, and I’m glad I’m different. So many of the girls have these scripted, monotone answers. Is that what an interview is about? Enforcing what society expects from you? No! Sure, my answers aren’t great, they’re far from perfect, but I’d much rather be raw and emotional than talk about the same shit over and over. I get asked a lot of the same questions… diets, strategies, discipline…  I guess people are interested in that stuff but it’s something that I find hard to answer, I guess because all of that is not what consumes me anymore.  Ask me something legit, something outside of the norm, that’ll get my attention and I’ll do my best to give you a good, honest answer. The same goes in competition. It’s not rare to watch a heat and zone out, completely. How many turns can one person do on a shitty wave…“That’s why I do airs, despite the fear of a bad score. It’s because I get sick of doing the same shit over and over! Well, f#*k it, I’m just going to try.

When Tyler’s fins get thrown in the air, like she just don’t care, you might notice a pretty dazzling design on display. Louis Gervais, Coolangatta local and artist extraordinaire, spent some quality time with the quiver this year. A large swallow with yellow and purple, Tyler’s favourite colours, seems to plunge into the water as the board hits vertical.

I know it’s corny, but it resembles being free. We had so much fun creating the concept… music videos, tattoos, nerfguns, fake pitbulls… it was the bird gang. You’ll see the number 13 all over my gear because 2013 was the year that changed the rest of my life. Sorry ’bout it! Maybe it’s time to get a tattoo.

Surfing is what Tyler Wright does. It’s not who she is. No, she’s not anywhere near normal. She’s better than that. She dresses like a character out of Fresh Prince when she feels like it. She curses like a sailor. She plays in the dirt. She ain’t afraid to shake what her momma gave her. Twerking is an everyday routine in the Wright household. Her oratory skills are far from refined, and she likes it that way. But most importantly, she lost the World Title and she couldn’t be happier.

This is the beginning of doing things that I’ve always dreamt of. It doesn’t need to be surf related. Instead, it’s life related. I can’t freaking wait.


Tyler Wright is sponsored by Rip Curl. For more Tyler love head here and watch a clip of her totally bossing it below:


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