"I spoke to his Dad and just two weeks ago he said he was nowhere near ready," Kelly Slater said while watching Owen Wright surf in the Semifinals of the Quiksilver Pro. "Now he's surfing so great, and wouldn't it be the story of all stories if Owen and Wilko are in the Final? Wilko making it back-to-back Finals, and Owen coming back. Now that would be the feel-good start to the year."
Of course Kelly ended up being right, both in his finals prediction and in just how good Owen and Wilko made us feel. While Owen's comeback from a severe brain injury had enough feel-good fuel to power a thousand rainbows, the fact that he defeated his best friend only added to the sheer weight of positive emotion.
"I obviously wanted to win, but Owen has made me cry about five times this week. To see him last year was one of the toughest things I've ever witnessed and to come back," Wilkinson said, choked with emotion, when the two were interviewed seconds after their heat. "So if there's anyone that's going to beat me, I'm so glad it's you, dude."
The pair, born 14 months apart, have been best friends and rivals since their competitive lives began. As the best young Australian surfers of their age group, their careers have been intertwined from the start. They fought over a succession of Australian Junior titles throughout their teens, traveled together on the Qualifying Series (QS) for three years, and both made their debuts on the Championship Tour (CT) in 2010.
Away from the competition scene the two goofyfooters have also shared the same sponsor, Rip Curl, since they were kids, and have traveled the world together for over a decade. They have traded tubes in Tonga, Bintangs in Bali and dance floors in Durban. They have probably spent more time on boats together than most of America's Cup crews. Each has seen the very best -- and the very worst -- of each other. Simply put, they are best friends.
And so it was Wilko who was one of the few in Wright's close-knit circle who was by his side from the start of his injury and throughout the painful recovery process. Wilko played his own small part in that miraculous comeback, helping "O-Dawg" through the bleak times and celebrating the small steps forward.
"I would not have wanted any other person in the Final other than Wilko," an emotional Wright said, clutching his mate. "He's been supporting me the whole way through the injury. To have him here, beside me again, makes it even more special."
Feel good? Sport has rarely felt better.