With 30 seconds left in Tyler Wright's Quarterfinal heat against wildcard Brisa Hennessy, coach Glenn "Micro" Hall paddled over to the defending World Champion and hugged her. A 16.10 to 9.40 win over Hennessy had just earned Wright her second career World Title, a back-to-back result after winning the championship in France one year ago.
"Wow," Wright told the WSL's Barton Lynch after the heat, smiling, pausing for the right words to come. "It’s weird, because I was so excited up the hill, and I was so excited to be in this event, excited to be in this position. I’ve had the best week. I can’t explain to you guys how much this week has meant to me. Micro has been so on point...We’ve had a sick team. All through the year, the little ups and downs -- to be in this moment right now, in this position...I was happy before I won, and I’m just as happy now."
The second day of the Maui Pro was held in pumping, but inconsistent conditions at Honolua Bay, and the break's vagaries dramatically shifted the tight World Title race. The biggest shock came yesterday, when World No.1 Sally Fitzgibbons was beaten in Round Two by Brisa Hennessy. The next closest challenger to Wright, Courtney Conlogue, had the chance to win her first title if she finished third in the event and ahead of Wright, but the Californian fell to Nikki van Dijk this afternoon in Round Four, dropping her out of contention.
All of a sudden, as Wright was warming up for her Quarterfinal, no other name mattered in the title race. Not Stephanie Gilmore. Not Carissa Moore. The championship was Wright's if she beat Hennessy.
"Obviously, this [could have been] the one, but we truly didn't know until I jumped off the rocks for this heat," Micro told Lynch in the water during the last moments of Wright's Quarterfinal. "After Courtney lost, it got a little hectic, Tyler didn’t know what was going on. She asked me if I knew what she needed to do, and I told her that I honestly didn't. [But] she was stoked. It sticks with the theory of keep winning heats and someone will give you a trophy at the end of the day when you’ve done enough [Laughs]. It’s fun. She’s just surfing another heat, and someone will give her a trophy if she does enough."
The mantra of owning the start to own the heat followed the day's trend: the surfers who got the first waves and the inside position in the unpredictable sets tended to win their heats, and Wright looked to do the same, arm-dragging for the barrel stall on the first wave of the Quarterfinal before the tube clipped her. Hall shouted to Wright as she paddled back to the lineup, and she gave him a thumbs-up at the feedback. Big turns were getting the big numbers from the judges. Wright redirected her focus to her patented rail-to-rail forehand game, even with the brace that supported her right knee from a torn MCL in October's Portugal event.
Hennessy found a wide pit for her opening ride, but she, too, was clipped by the foam ball. Wright answered back with a quick dip in the barrel, before laying down a giant two-turn combo for an 8.50 score. Minutes later, Wright doubled back with another barrel ride, flying down the line and wrapping turn after turn on the Keiki bowl's inside corner. A 7.60 score, and a combo situation for Hennessy with 15 minutes left in the heat.
The young wildcard unleashed a few clean, powerful turns on subsequent waves. They were the kind of full-shouldered carves that saw Hennessy through to wins against both Fitzgibbons and, in Round Four, Coco Ho. Joe Turpel and Martin Potter teased the idea of a miracle comeback with just under five minutes to go.
But there was to be no sophomore title slump for Wright. The horn sounded from the top of the bluff, and Wright suddenly had something even better than the yellow jersey on her back: a back-to-back World Title to her name.
"I never really...I mean, I did think about it, winning back-to-back titles," Wright told Lynch. "But it’s interesting, because it wasn’t like we thought we [Tyler and her team] were one and done last year. I kind of decided in 2015 that I was going to win one every year. I want to hold true to that. Working with Glenn over the last two years has been incredible. We have a long plan, and my plan is to stick to it. Back-to-back is a true testament to his dedication and the work that he puts in, nonstop. It takes a team to do this. It takes a team."
Throwing shakas and cheers to the surfers in the water who congratulated her, Wright's trademark composure under pressure -- the concentration that's helped her persevere through tremendous hardship in the last three years -- changed to joy. For the second year in a row, the World Title trophy was hers.
"I've had the most amazing conversations over the last couple of months with the entire team. From knee injuries to getting me mentally and physically prepared for this -- that’s what the last couple of weeks has been about. I was on the hill before my heat, and I...felt...so much. I’m not used to feeling much. Instead, I tell myself to calm down. But I just went with it. I was excited. I told Micro, and he said, ‘You’re allowed to be excited, you know.' I said, ‘Yeah, okay, cool.’" [Laughs].
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