Wave of emotion looms over Wright
OWEN Wright says he is "excited" but "nervous" as he returns to the Pipe Masters for the first time since suffering severe head injuries in massive surf while training for the 2015 event.
The season-ending Masters starts this weekend. Julian Wilson is the only Australian with a chance to win the world title, while Kelly Slater will make his long-awaited return to the world tour after breaking his foot in July.
But all eyes will be on Wright, currently No.5 in the title race, who will be battling his own demons at the site of a wipe-out which almost ended his career.
The Aussie won the opening event of the 2017 world tour after a year out of the sport. He has been training in Hawaii for weeks and will be surrounded by family and friends at the event.
His sister Tyler, the newly crowned women's world champion, has flown back to Hawaii to be with him as he heads out in the second heat of the competition against American Kanoa Igarashi and Aussie Josh Kerr.
"It's a double-edged sword," Wright said at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal in October. "On the one hand, I'm really excited to go and surf Pipeline. On the other hand, I'm nervous.
"Going back to the place where I had suffered my injury will be difficult. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Wilson tips Wright as one of the men to beat and said he would be inspired to make a big impact by Tyler's recent comeback from a knee injury to defend her world crown.
While only an outside chance of winning his maiden world crown at the famed decider, Wilson has one advantage over his three rivals - he's the only contender who knows how to win the Pipe Masters trophy.
Local John John Florence, who only has to make the final and the title is his for a second year running, has never finished better than second (2013) at the event.
Of his main rivals for the crown Brazilian Gabriel Medina has finished second twice (2014, 2015) but never won, while South African Jordy Smith's best performance is 13th place.
Wilson won at Pipeline in 2014 but admits he still has butterflies. "I'm pretty nervous about the competition actually," Wilson told The Saturday Telegraph.
"It's going to be big, 10 foot easily and plus, but the wind isn't that favourable.
"Nerves and excitement, they are good feelings to have here; they bring out the best in me for sure. A win here makes me maybe a little more confident but it's a new event, it's a new swell forecast.
"I know that winning it the first time, I wasn't going off a past win out here so it's all about kind of resetting, just taking the experience that I've had and falling back on that and getting out there and trying to find those good waves."
When the event begins, Wilson is up against American Conner Coffin and Australian Stuart Kennedy in heat three.