One of the true joys of sport is watching a gifted athlete become absolutely in tune with the medium in which he or she competes. This week, 25-year-old Owen Wright redefined The Zone when he scored four 10-point rides for two perfect heats in absolutely pumping conditions at Cloudbreak during the World Surf League’s Fiji Pro. “I just had this rhythm with the ocean,” Wright told SI.com.
When he pulled off his first perfect-heat score against Adam Melling in Round Five—surfers are judged on their two best waves for a maximum total score of 20—it was only the seventh time any surfer had done so in competition. And when the Australian dropped a 20 on Julian Wilson in the final, he stood alone in history.
“Every now and then, a surfer will sync up with a break to a point that they’re on a higher level,” says Matt Warshaw, the former editor of Surfer magazine and the author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing. “Owen hit that place in Fiji to a degree not ever seen. And what I loved about it is that he seemed as surprised and baffled by it as everybody else.”
After Wright exited gaping barrels and fearlessly attacked 12-foot walls of water with critical turns, he screamed in pure joy, pumping his fists and pointing at the boats where his fellow competitors and friends cheered him on. That emotion was something fans could relate to as most have to compete and scrap for waves at their home spots (albeit in much less death-defying conditions). And once in a while, the everyday surfer will get in the zone and find the best waves of the session, one reason Wright’s two-day run was so inspiring. “I felt right at home, like paddling out at my home break, getting all the good waves,” he said. “But it was happening at Cloudbreak during a World Tour event. I was just so comfortable, getting whitewater takeoffs, pulling in underneath the lip. I was kind of surprising myself out there.”
It was certainly a moment of truth for the talented surfer from New South Wales who’d had his share of firsts before a debilitating back injury derailed his 2013 and ’14 campaigns: in 2011 when he finished third overall, he and Kelly Slater reached three straight finals together in Tahiti, New York and at Lower Trestles in Southern California. But even the 11-time champ couldn’t match this one. “I said something to Kelly when I got back to the boat like, ‘Hey, this is something you usually do.’ He’s like, ‘No, I’ve never done it.’ We certainly have a reference point now. I’m still blown away: It’s a once in a lifetime type of thing and I did it twice in same event.”
The World Surf League moves on to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, July 8-19
Waving to his mates on the boat after his second 10 in the finals: