Meet the real Mikey Wright
Story by Lucas Townsend | Photos by Ryan Heywood 2015 was the year of Mikey Wright. He went from being the younger brother of two surfing superstars, to a bona fide antihero, not to mention Quiksilver’s premier freesurfer. Last year when he was posed to make his ascent, we hung with Mikey on the rock, and captured […]
Story by Lucas Townsend | Photos by Ryan Heywood
2015 was the year of Mikey Wright. He went from being the younger brother of two surfing superstars, to a bona fide antihero, not to mention Quiksilver’s premier freesurfer. Last year when he was posed to make his ascent, we hung with Mikey on the rock, and captured the inner workings of a soon to be surfing force.
The speed dealers. They flicker in the afternoon light like a neon sign on a Tokyo strip. Fluoro, sharp and godawful. Usually worn with tracksuit pants, Nike TN’s and a foul mouth, they cut perfectly into a newly sewn mullet. There’s one of those here, too. Tattoos leak from trunk hems and a white t-shirt stretches across broader shoulders than I last remember. A vulnerable beard rides along his jawline patchy like a blind man’s lawn, and there’s more Kenny Powers resemblance than any Wright bloodline.
There’s a teenage something to his dress. It’s like something he might yet undo, or do again, or grow out of. The style is aggressive and cocky in a way that nothing else about him is. There’s the feeling something’s being tried for the first time here. He’s not sure it if it’ll work, or whether it’ll last. But Mikey Wright’s just turned 18 years old, and none of that matters right now.
It’s Hawaiian winter and the sun is sinking early as it does. Chicago’s homeless are returning to the sand in front of Rockies for dark. Flynn Novak, who’s also a regular in Mikala’s backyard, tells me they were bought one-way tickets by their local council because too many died from hypothermia in winter. Here, the nights stay warm year round, and large tree crowns offer the cheapest beachfront accommodation in the world. Sitting on a nursery rhyme garden bench under a tree house because Hawaii, Mikey and I both agree if you had to be homeless, Ke Nui Road was Park Lane.
“Snake (Paterson) dropped them off for me,” he says as conversation shifts from the homeless to the heinous. “I was wearing a pair (of wraparound shades) I picked up from a servo for seven bucks. He told me that’s what he used to wear when he was my age and found me some.”
Like his brother, Mikey’s got quite the nerve when the Teahupoo curtain starts to fall. We look forward with gusto to seeing a Wright brother shoot of a macking chopes in the near future.
“My haircut – the mullet – all started with a fun weekend at home partying,” he says as conversation shifts from the heinous to the heroic. “Then in Tahiti, Ryan Heywood (photog) hacked at it, shaved the sides until it was completely bald and cut all the top. Girls think it’s funny and strange. It’s definitely good having one when you’re out partying in town because they see you as being pretty fucked and they like it, come over and dance beside it, touch it and shit. It’s cool.”
With his capital T frame and dark brows above piercing eyes, there’s a MP-Bells-carpark-circa-1974 look to Mikey. Minus the excess voices of course. I ask about his tattoos and Mikey pries his t-shirt up, revealing an indian’s face corrugated over his ribs.
“I think I’ll keep going with ‘em,” he says. “Once you start you can’t really stop. I’ve got so many ideas to finish off my arm, my chest, hopefully I don’t get in trouble for that, but I don’t really care.”
The mullet and the eyewear and the ink, he knows, doesn’t fit with his reputation and neither does anything else which seems too facetious. He has always been the kid with Owen’s destiny; forever polite and friendly and respectful and talented. He’s still everything of the latter, and may still hold the first, but it’s being 18 which has him experimenting and working out what the fuck happiness is. Plus, reputation is only what people expect from you, and expectations are supposed to be torched, because fires need to burn to keep people warm in winter or something.
February 2014, Mikey beat a handful of CT gents to win the Chiko QS event at D-bah and expectation would say he’d keep following the series. But deep down Mikey felt like a square peg in a round hole with the thought of straightening up and wearing jerseys all year. So he didn’t, did the opposite and has been traveling constantly for 12 months. It’s a frightening proposition for any WSL fat cat when Australia’s best pub-legal surfer doesn’t want your money or your women.
Here’s a much neglected shot of the end of the road. Nothing like a shoulder to giver perspective to this below sea level marvel.
“Comps are overrated,” he says.
“When I was younger I definitely said I wanted to have a world title one day. Growing up now, things are changing. I suppose it’d still be sick to have a world title in your bank, and I guess these days it’s a big thing. But I don’t have to make a choice right now.”
“Right now, I just want to free surf and build my character,” he says. “Competing is on my radar I suppose, but it’s just not a priority. I’d rather spend the money and go somewhere else, make a clip and share it with the world instead of surfing mushy waves.”
Build Character. That’s a chapter in a management book, I’m sure of it. It’s certainly not something you think about between gals and partying and your first drink since last drinks and other important decisions you have to make at 18.
“It’s growing up,” he retorts. “I want to find out who I really am, as lame as that might sound. It’s about going to surf different places, meeting different people, different cultures and get a better mental game, I guess.”
Don’t be misconstrued. This isn’t an anti-establishment spray fitting for Surfer Poll, or a revolt against his employer. His signing with Quik is a fabled story in surfing. Just eight years old, Mikey burnt an Exec on an over-head day at Bells Beach who, so impressed by his style, offered him a contract. Ten years later this is choice in its finest form, supported by a major sponsor who’s freesurfing selection is flawless. They’ll have vacancies in the near future because, let’s be realistic, Craig Anderson and Dane Reynolds won’t sell trunks forever. The only person who can, left the stables last year because they weren’t edible. And Mikey is a fine insurance policy for any freesurfing investment.
“I was with Dane and Ando in France last year and it’s crazy how well those guys surf. It’s exciting. Every set they go, you know something big’s coming. That’s where I want my surfing to get to. When you’re watching them you really want to watch every little detail of what they’re doing.
“Their lifestyle is sick. They’re surfing the world, making clips, having fun. But it’s a full-time job, they’ve still got to do shoots, signings and be certain places but it’s a bit like you’re on a self-employed schedule. You can make your own work.”
“I’ve watched Owen and Tyler and I’ve seen what they’ve done and I’ve had conversations with them both. Tyler said to me, ‘Hold off (on qualifying) as long as you can. You’re only young once. If I could’ve waited, I would’ve.’”
It’s refreshing when the youth have a clear nod to style. Here’s Mikey, scooping as casual as it comes.
“And it’s been the same message from Owen. He said, ‘Go for it if you really want it. But… if you’ve got the smallest feeling that you’re not ready, don’t do it. Don’t force yourself.’ So from watching them I got to make up my own mind.”
Mikey still lives at Lennox Head. Although, the Wright Family is a split affair: “Mum and Dad splitting made the family stronger, you know. People say it can take a big toll and I wouldn’t say we exactly benefited from it, because we’d still like them together, but it’s good to see my parents happy.” A self-contained, two-story duplex is home, which he shares with best mate and filmer, Wade Carroll. “We had a party the weekend before we went away (to Hawaii),” he says. “We usually get pretty hammered, have fun, go do stupid shit like ride the motorbike in the backyard using our phone as a torch.”
His surfing isn’t short back and sides anymore, either.
I’d shared the Rocky Point lineup with him just an hour earlier. Calm and smiling, he was, but still with hustle that’ll serve him well should he choose to tour later. One particular wave grew into a left ramp as we both sat a little out of position. The wave began to slide further up the beach towards Pipe. Mikey looked at me on his inside. His eyes pierced and he rocked his weight through his arms, pivoted his board towards the shore and shot into a paddle like a submerged plastic bottle of air. I turned and paddled, too. Being on the inside I should get to this, I thought. But the wave continued to move faster than my labouring stroke. With his chin low to his board, reach long like a ray and an Olympic kick, Mikey blazed while I sank.
That signature Mikey do’s definitely not the spawn of a barber. Backyard DIY, for the authentic styles.
And if you’ve ever shared a lineup with a surfer who’s more pinot noir than cask wine then you’ll know that moment when it’s perfectly fine to just watch. When he or she takes off you become oblivious to the rest of the set, just to watch from behind as their board goes 12 o’clock at each section like a flickering light. I waited, and waited expecting to sip on the finest wine. Nothing, and the wave ran off, fast. Too fast for a gent going backside.
Then I saw a head skim into eyeshot, if only for a split-second. Further down the line it appeared again. Suddenly a 6’2” frame launched with all the hang time of Jay Davies or Jordy Smith. He spun. No grab. Full rotation, and off-axis. He landed on the roof, an inch too far to sea. While it wasn’t a make, that expectation of witnessing something big, which Mikey sees in Dane and Ando, was exactly what I found myself wanting.
“Everyone thinks it’s a fork-in-the-road situation. But it’s not. This is my own choice, not anyone else’s. Now I’m having fun, going surfing whenever I want, and in good waves.” And with that I can’t help but feel the Weet-Bix kid days are behind him. Mikey Wright is less Mikey, and more Mike and 18 never felt so alive.
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