Australia’s Tyler Wright has re-exploded onto the scene after a lengthy absence where only rumor and mystery percolated. She is now the face of the World Surf League, eclipsing Kelly Slater as its most visible star. ESPN, the sporting news juggernaut, has just published a book-sized profile of Wright, her struggles and triumphs, providing much clarity and insight.
Some salient bits…
On goal in coming back to surfing after a lengthy illness: I realized if I’m coming back, I am going to show up with who I am as a human first. Surfing needs people who are going to get into boardrooms and have hard conversations. I’m asking for equality for women, equality for the LGBTQ+ community, equality for Black and brown and indigenous people. I honestly don’t care about winning more world titles. But I know what gets me in the room.
On being part of a legendary surfing family: When you’re that young, it’s not something you question. They competed, so I competed. One in, all in. It was all so insular. By the time I established my own thought processes, I was already on the world tour.
On getting on tour at sixteen: Everyone was like, “You’re living the dream at 16.” I was like, “Whose dream? I don’t f—ing dream of this s—. I want to read books. I want to go to school.”
On the early pressure to conform: We have to make the women’s tour about sexy models who surf to make it marketable. The model pro surfer was someone who was silent, white, hot, blond, skinny and hetero.
On winning her first world title: I don’t want to glorify any of it. I wasn’t competing in a healthy manner. People wanted the story to feel good. I wanted the story to feel good to make it worth it. But mentally, all of this scrambled me.
On realizing she was gay: I wouldn’t have said that I was homophobic, but you realize really quickly the internalized homophobia you have. If you’re not gay or part of the LGBTQ+ community, then you don’t have to look at it. But you’re being raised with all these drip-fed views. Meeting Alex, that’s when the un-learning process began for me.
On being public with her new relationship: The general culture of the surfing community has been homophobic, racist and extremely sexist and that’s been the standard across the board. I told (her girlfriend), “Oh no. You cannot show me affection here. You have to be a platonic friend.” I didn’t feel safe at all.
On rare illness that drove her out of sight for nearly two years: Overnight, I lost everything, what made me Tyler Wright. I lost my personality, my physicality. I’m used to excruciating amounts of pain, but the physical pain got so bad that it would mentally break me. And it broke me every day. I didn’t get a minute where I was unbroken.
On then being diagnosed with PTSD: It’s overwhelming, always being on the verge of panic. My life is literally trying to walk through a minefield and not jump at my own shadow.
On awakening to social issues: I understand that in this conversation, I am a white person and I have benefited from white supremacist structures. We have to start dismantling those structures.
On newfound freedom, and responsibility: I think it would feel very human to win another world title with this mindset. And the more I’m on the podium, the more I’m on your screens, the more important conversations I get to have.