On deal­ing with crit­ics and em­brac­ing your weird­ness

Surfer - - A Drift With The Vanguard -

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.

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