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Mikey Wright's Ongoing Back Woes

Australian Mikey Wright started the year off in the same way he has for the past three seasons - with an invitation to he Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, his third career Championship Tour appearance.

He racked up points at Snapper, took out two World Champs - John Florence and Gabe Medina - and secured his best result on the big stage; a 9th place finish losing to Filipe Toledo in Round 4.

From there, the rest of his season was a CT blur. Mikey competed in seven more events on the Dream Tour, making the Semis in Bali and the Quarters in France.

Mikey Wright of Australia won Heat 2 of the Quarterfinals at the Corona Bali Protected, 2018. Mikey Wright during the 2018 Corona Bali Protected. WSL / Ed Sloane

Never finishing outside of 13th place during this run, he has positioned himself well for 2019.

But, unknown to anyone watching him compete, something has been nagging at him this season -- an ongoing back injury that's forced his withdrawal from the Vans Triple Crown.

As the Tour heads to Pipe for the final CT event of the year, the Wright brother discusses his current situation.

So you've had some ongoing back issues.

Yes, I thought it was just my hip at first, but it was actually my back that was causing me all of the pain.

Mikey Wright Eliminates Jeep Leader Julian Wilson in Bali
1:34
The Wildcard continues to make waves on the Championship Tour, eliminating Julian Wilson with this 6.6 at the Corona Bali Protected.

When did it first occur to you that you may have had an injury?

In February, at the Volcom Pipe Pro, I actually hit the bottom hard. I was seriously impacted by it, I couldn't train and I was struggling with my surfing. I did the Boardriders Battle in Australia, and before the Final I couldn't even touch my toes. I was all locked up and that was only a week after Pipe.

Then I want and saw a specialist and got fixed up by him. I was fine, but would get stiff if I surfed too much in one day. In Bali, in one of my heats I did an air and backlashed. From that heat onwards I had pain all the way down my side and also had post-concussion issues from when I hit my head in February (at Pipe).

So from Bali onwards, I've had constant pain until France and I've taken the rest of the year off to get better.

Mikey Wright (AUS) advances to the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Quiksilver Pro France after winning Heat 3 of Round 4 in Hossegor, France. The Australian advances to the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Quiksilver Pro France. WSL / Laurent Masurel

What are the details of your diagnosis?

Initially, I was working on my hip, back, neck and head with my specialist and didn't really have a diagnosis. I didn't have any scans done, I just thought I was locked up. It was not until I had some time after France to actually get it sorted.

I eventually went and got some scans and an x-ray done on my lower back. There is one large disc bulge and another just below it. The L5-S1 is the bad one, and it's hitting the sciatic nerve on my right side. That's what's causing the pain.

So, yeah, two bulged discs in my back. One is a lot worse than the other. The L5-S1 is pretty bad. When you look at the spinal cord running down, all the nerves completely stop where the bulge is, then it keeps going down after.

Mikey Wright Continues His Ascent in South Africa
0:31
The wildcard isn't slowing down, earning an 8.27 and eliminating Jesse Mendes in Round 2 of the Corona Open J-Bay.

What was your reaction when you learned you might need surgery to correct this?

I wasn't thinking about surgery at all, but I went to see a spine specialist and he said I could definitely benefit from a disc replacement, and maybe a second if I'm already in there. I started asking him about all these ways of doing it and it didn't sound to him like there was much other option.

The news wasn't too bad of a shock, I've been told before that I need surgery. This time was a little bit different though, because I could see how big the bulge was and how much it was impacting me pain-wise.

I still probably won't go with surgery, I think I'm too young. I'm only 22, so to have a disc replacement at my age is pretty stupid.

Mikey Wright (AUS) has won his heat on Round Three Wright wins Round 3 in France. WSL / Laurent Masurel

So what's the course of treatment going forward?

Just intense rehab for the next four months then throughout next year I'll have to keep maintaining it. I think this is one I'll have to be cautious of, but that's not going to hold me back in my surfing.

It just means I will have to focus on strength around my back, all of the muscles in my stomach and core strength. I have to maintain it so the disc does not but bulge out again. It will be still be bulged, that won't change, but I just don't want to let it get as bad as it was.

Mikey Wright of Australia finishes in fourth from round five heat five of the Volcom Pipe Pro 2018 held at Pipeline, Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii. Wright at the 2018 Volcom Pipe Pro. WSL / Keoki Saguibo

Describe your headspace when you had to pull out of the Vans Triple Crown.

It sounds odd, but I was relieved because of how much pain I had been in. To be honest I had surfed for six months with constant pain.

When I surf a heat, I'm pain free because I have adrenaline and I don't really feel it. But when I come back on land it's worse than it was before because it had just been flared up.

Once it was clear that I was positioned well to be qualified for next year, I was happy to take the time off to get my back sorted out. I had been dealing with it for too long for it to be normal. People deal with pain a lot longer, but six months of surfing and competing most weeks gets a bit too much.

Of course I would have wanted to go and surf in the Triple Crown, I always like going to Hawaii, but this was a bigger priority for me.

Any predictions on who is going to win Pipe and walk away with the World Title?

I hope Jules does -- I think he can do it, too. If Gabby and Filipe get knocked out early, he can do it for sure and take home the title. I hope he does.

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