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Tyler Wright on the joys and setbacks of her unprecedented career

Courtesy of the WSL

Tyler Wright’s career has been full of ups and downs, joys and hardships.

The Australian superstar surfer stopped by the latest JWS podcast to talk about her early rise to stardom and how she battled back from a career-shattering illness.

Wright rose to prominence at a young age, winning her first Championship Tour event at just 14, becoming the youngest surfer in history to do so.

In hindsight, Wright says she might not have been psychologically or emotionally prepared to be shot to surfing superstardom so early.

“It was so overwhelming,” Wright remembers.

Now 27 years old and a veteran of the tour, the surfing phenom is driving conversations about education requirements and mental health in the sport. Wright personally knows the downside of doing too much too soon. By the time she was 18 years old, Wright already felt burnt out on the sport.

“I didn’t know how to ask for help,” says Wright.

Amid dealing with her own personal struggles, Wright’s brother incurred a life-altering brain injury during a surfing competition in 2015. The young surfer sprang into action to help her older brother, an experience Wright says changed her perspective on her career.

She went on to win back-to-back WSL championships, first in 2016 and then again in 2017.

“I just got it done,” says Wright of her multiple titles. The world champ says surfing became a haven from the stressors and traumas happening outside of the sport.

“It was a way of expressing how much was in me at the time.”

During the 2018 season, things came to a screeching halt for Wright when she contracted influenza A and then developed a post-viral infection. Wright says she had consistent headaches, lost nearly 40 pounds, and was bedridden for over a year.

The diagnosis, as you can imagine, was difficult to accept, let alone fight through.

“I was still trying to fly to events,” Wright says, before the surfing phenom had to accept that life as she once knew it was no longer an option. After being sidelined for 2018 and 2019, Wright finally found a specialist who could help her get back to surfing form.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Now healthy and with time to reflect on her road to recovery, Wright is ready to change the sport of surfing for good. In 2020, Wright made history as the first surfer to compete with a Pride flag on her jersey. Earlier in the year, she made headlines by taking a knee before one of her heats for 439 seconds — one second for each of the 439 First Nations person in Australia who have lost their lives in police custody since 1991.

Wright has also been outspoken about changing the culture of surfing to make it a more inclusive sport.

“For me, it is policy change, it is about health and wellbeing frameworks for athletes,” says Wright.

You can listen to Tyler Wright’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara here.