There have been some pretty amazing surf battles over the past few years. John John Florence and Kelly Slater had maybe the best heat ever in Teahupoo. Dusty Payne had a remarkable comeback against Julian Wilson to win the Reef Hawaiian Pro and, eventually, the Triple Crown. But history was made at the Fiji Pro and it wasn’t necessarily about one surfer overtaking another.
On his way to an event championship, Owen Wright achieved perfection — twice. For the first time ever, Wright earned two perfect 20-point heat totals in the same competition. He was in complete synchronicity with the wave at Cloudbreak, piling up four perfect 10s, the first two in round five and the last two in the final against Wilson.
Many sports have some form of achieving perfection and most of the time it comes along with judges’ subjectivity. Baseball has a “perfect game,” which is clearly defined, but some subjectivity may not be a bad thing. Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer was about as perfect on Sunday (9.0 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 16 strikeouts) as a starter can be without actually pitching a perfect game. To those watching, his dominance was on par with any single game in history. He would have received 10s across the board.
Since surfing relies upon judges’ decisions, there can sometimes be questionable outcomes. That wasn’t the case with Wright. The pumping swell at Cloudbreak seemed sent by Mother Nature, colliding beautifully with his heats and allowing him to experience what will be tough to argue as the best surfed event in history.
When up against a dominant opponent, you sometimes hear an athlete say “today my best just wasn’t good enough.” It’s a cliché, but for Wilson and Adam Melling, they experienced that idea in the most literal context. Realizing that even absolute perfection would only be good enough for a tie must be a difficult mindset while in the water. There’s usually still that glimmer of hope that if the right waves come through, a miracle could still happen. Staring at a 20.00 on your opponent’s score line removes even that miraculous naivete.
Wright seems to have been built to surf Cloudbreak. He’s big, powerful and never afraid to charge. This is the first time he’s been both injury-free and consistent enough to use his obvious talents to crash the world title race. He’s done exactly that with his first ever world tour win, moving up to third in the season’s rankings and fewer than 2,000 points behind current leader Adriano de Souza.
While Wright was busy being perfect over and over again, this year’s theme of imperfection remained at the forefront. There will be at least one more contest with the yellow jersey for de Souza, but he was knocked out in the third round for the second straight event. His prowess through the Australian leg has been whittled away, this time thanks to wild card Dane Reynolds.
Filipe Toledo followed suit and was unable to capitalize on de Souza’s elimination. He also lost in round three and will — barely — remain in second place on the year.
While this Fiji Pro will be remembered for Wright’s sheer dominance, this season as a whole may wind up being remembered as the most wide open of all time. Everyone seems to be piling up their throwaways and nobody is setting themselves up as the clear favorite down the stretch. Nat Young has advanced beyond round three just twice in five events, but he sits at No. 7 in the standings. Wilson lost in the second round at the Rio Pro and then made the final in Fiji. Kelly Slater is off to by far the worst start to any season in his career, but he can still look at the table and think he has a legitimate shot at getting back into the mix.
While making any world title proclamation would currently be a fool’s errand, it’s more than fair to say Owen Wright presently owns the spotlight and earned an immortal moment he will undoubtedly remember forever.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.