On dealing with critics and embracing your weirdness
In a lot of ways, you really paved the way for most of the guys on this boat trip in terms of what path they could take in professional surfing. What’s it like surfing with these guys who have picked up that torch?
It was really cool. Now that I’m older, I get to do heaps of trips with kids who have looked up to the way I’ve done things. It feels like a good accomplishment to inspire such a cool group of people. If I played any little part in what kids are doing in surfing today, I’m pretty stoked because I think surfing is in such a good place.
These days you’re known for your artwork as much as your surfing. When did you first tap into your passion for art?
When I was a kid I started drawing and I just never stopped. Now on pretty much every surf trip I go on I bring some sort of art materials, just in case the waves are flat—especially in Indonesia because art materials are so cheap. Lately I’ve been a fan of big crayon drawings. I did portraits of all the surfers on this boat trip and displayed them in my art show in Bali.
You were a real outlier at the beginning of your career, making weird art and just trying to do airs on every wave. Did you deal with much criticism for that back then?
I did. I remember there was letter printed in Tracks magazine from a guy who went on a long rant about how my parents must be ashamed of me because “I look like a junkie.” He said stuff like, “Come back to earth, space cadet,” and “My 2 year old draws better than you.” I was pretty shattered when I read that. But then I photocopied it, blew it up and put it on my wall and sort of turned it into art.
What advice would you give to kids today who find themselves dealing with harsh critics?
Now everyone just flies off the handle and writes whatever they want on the web or Instagram, so I think kids are more used to criticism. But I still would tell kids to ignore that stuff, don’t read it or just laugh at it. I hang out with Noa Deane and he’s copped a fair bit of criticism. Guys like him have pretty thick skin, but I think those kinds of comments can be dangerous. It’s horrible what some people write.
Do you think surfers are more open-minded now than they were when you started surfing?
Definitely. When I was growing up, Christian Fletcher was scoffed at in Australia and people would say “He’s got no power,” or “He’s got his legs too far apart.” But he was always my favorite. Everyone at the time was bent on being a rail surfer. I think surf culture has changed heaps, and thank god it has. The door is so wide open now with all the different ways you can ride a wave.
It doesn’t seem like you ever take things too seriously, both in and out of the water. How do you think that affects the way you ride waves? Occasionally I’ll get serious if I’m at the best left I’ve ever seen. But actually some of the best waves I’ve surfed have been some of the worst sessions I’ve ever had because I put pressure on myself to perform. Honestly I’d rather just surf the biggest piece of crap with no one out.
Funny how that goes: Some days it’s more fun surfing a 3-foot novelty wave by yourself than paddling out at the best spot on the coast.
That’s me, 100 percent. From a young age I remember I would always tell people that I didn’t want to be world champion [Laughs]. But I feel like that was a good attitude to have as a kid. I’m so glad I chose the path that I did. It’s way more fun.
(Above and opposite) “When I was coming up, I didn’t feel like surfers wanted to travel the way I wanted to,” says Wright. “I just liked doing art wherever I went. Now these younger guys want to do the same thing so it’s been really fun.”
(Top) Wright, with more style in his fingertips than most have in their entire body.