The day champion Aussie surfer Owen Wright received brain trauma injuries felt like a building had collapsed on him in the surf in Hawaii
The great Australian surfer Owen Wright, heralded a decade ago as perhaps the greatest ever produced in Australia, has spoken of the incredible trauma he suffered the day the ocean turned against him.
Wright was in Hawaii in 2015 preparing for Pipeline and if he did well there, he would be crowned world champion.
That week the waves were huge and the sea was angry.
This was in December, seven years before he would win a bronze medal in the Olympics.
Australian surfing legend Owen Wright (pictured with Rip Curl board) won Olympic bronze for six years after suffering life-threatening brain trauma in Hawaii
Owen Wright (pictured) retired from pro surfing this year, but in his recently released autobiography Against The Water he describes how the ocean nearly killed him
In 2015 he was at the peak of his abilities and, in his own words, ‘felt invincible in the surf’ as well.
Maybe that’s why the ocean turned against him today.
In his book, Against The Waterhis autobiography, Wright vividly recalls that December morning because it was the day that changed his life.
He had carefully paddled into the teeth of these massive 15-foot waves, but felt well enough to handle them.
Then someone turned on him.
The following is an excerpt from his book as printed in the Weekend Australian.
“On the way out, this colossal couple came in.
‘When the first wave threatened to break right in front of me, I had nowhere to go.
This is an eight-foot monster wave in Hawaii and a lone surfer retreats from it. The wave that sank Owen Wright was 15 feet high
“Everyone was saving their boards and swam to the depths to get as far away from the impact as possible. Doing this, of course, will give you a tea bag: your board will stay on the surface and take over, as the force of the wave flows down your leg rope, nearly dislocating your leg.
‘But that is preferable to a direct hit.
‘The alternative to bailing is duck diving while staying on your board, where you don’t get more than half a meter under water. That was the stupid option I chose – maybe out of complacency, a momentary delusion of invincibility.
“My punishment was for this 15-foot Pipe wave from the second reef to land on top of me.
‘How do I describe the impact? I have trouble with it.
“No building has ever collapsed on top of me, and I realize that would kill you. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine how the building could feel heavier than this wave.
“I was still in the impact zone. What had hit me was only the first wave of a set of 10 waves. One after the other, about 20 seconds apart, these watery avalanches crashed on top of me.
Kita Wright and her husband’s eldest son Owen nearly lost their father in 2015
“I wasn’t thinking straight and stayed on my board throughout the attack.
“It made me unconscious. When I surfaced I was apparently conscious, but white as a sheet. Expressionless. A ghost.’
Wright remembers going home that morning and not feeling well, so he lay down and slept for a few hours.
When he woke up, most of his body, including his speech, was not working.
Friends heard him make a muffled sound and came to see what was going on. When they saw him, they immediately called an ambulance.
“The paramedics carried me out of the house on a stretcher to an ambulance. As they did, I looked into the eyes of my friends and sister and saw fear. I started convulsing. T
“Then, I’m told, my eyes rolled back into my head and I passed out.
“I woke up in the emergency room of a small hospital. Sitting next to Tyler (my sister) was my brother Mikey, who was freesurfing nearby on the North Shore. Tyler had called him.
“We’ve stabilized you,” the doctor said, “but we need to get you scanned. Try to relax.’
A short time later, I was wheeled away for a CT scan and then wheeled back to the emergency room.
“Your scans show that you have a cerebral hemorrhage,” one of them said.
“There’s also swelling.” Both doctors looked at me strangely, like I was some puzzling case or something.
“It is best that you be transferred immediately to a larger hospital,” the other said. So I made another ambulance ride to this larger hospital.
“In my new hospital bed, I was aggressive, if not hazy or gloomy. “Get me out of here,” I snapped at anyone within earshot.
‘After two days I could move, but not very well.
“I got out of bed, took a few shuffling steps and said, ‘See? I am fine.
Owen Wright is today helping kids learn to surf through Surfaid
‘But these were bewilderingly unimpressive displays of mobility. I was delusional; it took me several days to let go of the idea that I would return to Pipe and surf for the title.
“The doctors wouldn’t let me go. I was in a precarious state, they said.
“Bleeding and swelling in the brain – these were not circumstances to be taken lightly, they said.
“Consistent with the observable, physical damage to the brain, what I had suffered went beyond a concussion; it qualified as traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“The difference between a concussion and a traumatic brain injury, the doctors explained, lies in its severity and the presence of certain additional symptoms, such as slurred speech, confusion and convulsions, all of which I exhibited.
“They put me on a bunch of drugs, including anticoagulants and anticonvulsants.”
While in the hospital trying to come to grips with the severity of his injuries, he was told it would be five or even ten years before he was even remotely close to who he once was.
“Five to ten years? Get rid of it, I thought. I’m fine already.
“But this doctor was just warming up.
“Your brain looks like that of an explosion victim,” he said.
“You’re not just bleeding. You have multiple scars: scars and changes in the brain in four or five different areas. I would compare the damage to the kind of damage we see in victims of explosions from war zones or in babies with shaken baby syndrome.’
The rehabilitation that followed for Wright was long and arduous. by his side when he was first taken to hospital was Kita, his girlfriend whom he married four years after the accident.
They now have two rings.
Owen Wright’s autobiography, Against The Water, was published in August and he (with long blonde hair) donates an autographed copy to actor Chris Hemsworth before going surfing
Famous actor Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor often surfs with his great friend Wright at Byron
After fighting his way back from that terrible period in his life that caused major brain damage to win Olympic bronze in 2021, Wright announced this year that he is retiring from competitive surfing and said he no longer wants to risk his health .
The 33 year old The bronze medal capped off an inspiring comeback after he was brought to the brink of death in 2015 by the devastating defeat at Hawaii’s Pipeline.
Recently, he was spotted surfing with famous Aussie Hemsworth brothers Chris and Liam in Byron Bay.
Wright’s sister Tyler is one of the best female surfers in the world and she is a star on the women’s world tour.
“After my traumatic brain injury in 2015, my desire to prove to myself and the world that I could still be great and overcome this life-threatening incident inspired my recovery,” said Wright.
“Now eight years later, after challenges and achievements, I can look back with pleasure knowing that I achieved that goal.