The Proteas recently thumped England at the Oval, the UK’s oldest test cricket venue. The visitors were in fine form and you could sense that they were better prepared for the contest.
Paddy Upton, for cricket fans, needs no introduction. He’s a former Western Province provincial cricketer, was coach of the Indian cricket team for a spell, and is now part of the behind-the-scenes team who make sure the Proteas are mentally prepared to take on the rest, with his role as Performance Director.
Long before Paddy was a mind-doctor, though, he was and still is a keen surfer. While he doesn’t spend all that much time at home nowadays, you can often still catch Paddy and Proteas star Dale Steyn paddling out for a quick session somewhere in the Mother City. Zag had a quick chat with Paddy to find out more.
Zigzag: Howzit Paddy, let’s start with the important question. How long have you been a surfer and how’d you get into it?
Paddy: I started surfing as a Muizenberg grom at age 12. I remember buying my first board, a Southwind, and carrying it from the Corner Surf Shop to the water, fins facing forward and outward. I also remember the embarrassment when a mate told me I didn’t even know how to carry a board properly.
Ha! But did you put the wrong foot forward when you stood up? Are you a goofy or regular foot?
Your favourite spot?
My favourite spot is any line-up that is empty.
You’re in charge of keeping the Proteas’ minds focussed. How important is mental conditioning in cricket, and most professional sports in general?
Every athlete I’ve spoken to says that the mind is the most important factor in their success (or failure). This much is clear. What interests me is that if this is so, then where are the sport psychologists? Why are they not one of the most important full-time members of top sports teams? It’s either that their approach is not meeting players’ needs, or that the sport teams are not using them correctly. I think it’s a bit of both.
Can your techniques be modified to benefit professional surfers looking to up their game?
The philosophies used with cricketers are universally relevant to almost any human endeavour, surfing, business, coaching, parenting, you name it. Studying the whole book for the exam, not taking short cuts, playing according to your unique strengths, focusing primarily on what you do well (not badly), learning for yourself rather than waiting to be told what to do, contributing positive energy into the team pot, etc. etc are universal principles of success. The reality is that these are only words – Gary (Kirsten) and I call them ‘coaches rhetoric’. The differentiator is successfully bringing these words to life within your game.
Okay, let’s talk surfing again. You mentioned that you have your quiver with you in England because you’re heading to the Mentawais for a quick trip, with a cricket tour of Sri Lanka following on from that. Surfed either of these places before?
It will be my first trip to the Mentawais. I’ve been lucky enough to get Sri Lanka at its best, on a few occasions.
Lucky… Do any of the other team members bring a surfboard along on tour?
No one brings boards. It’s never too difficult to hire or borrow them, especially if you’re hanging out with Dale Steyn.
True. Next question; The Proteas visit far more interesting places surf-wise than the Springbok rugby team does – the Caribbean, Sri Lanka and India are just a couple of examples – are you glad you got the Proteas job instead of the Bok one?
With cricket we are away from our home break (and families) for up to about 11 months a year, whereas rugby players spend far more days at home. That said, we do get to go to great places, and unlike rugby, we follow summer around the world!
Former Proteas player Jonty Rhodes once mentioned in an interview that he’d wished he’d got hooked on surfing earlier and had taken a board along to some of the tour stops, in particular the Caribbean and Sri Lanka. Have you been to the Caribbean with the squad before and did you get to surf?
During the T20 World Cup in the Carribbean, I was coaching the Indian team. But when it came to downtime, I would sneak off and go fishing with Morne and Albie Morkel and Dale (Steyn). To reciprocate, I arranged boards because there was a fun pointbreak right in front of the hotel. Dale and I surfed every morning and evening, including on game days.
Dale Steyn was spotted reading the June issue of Zigzag on live TV during the Lords test. Was it your magazine he’d got his hands on?
Between Dale and I, one of us always buys the Zigzag at the airport on the way out of SA. It’s my surfing porn for when I can’t get the real thing.
Glad we could help out on those long tours. Anyways, You’re constantly encouraging Dale to come and surf with you via Twitter. Does he need the motivation, or is he pretty surf-stoked as it is?
How many surfers do you know who need motivation to surf? The only motivation he needs is to be asked ‘wanna go surfing’.
During your travels both locally and internationally, where can the best waves be found in your opinion?
I have had great waves in India, and line-ups are ALWAYS empty. Arugum Bay in Sri Lanka cooks, except it’s is often cursed by bad-attitude Israelis. New Zealand has loads of options. All said, not much beats a mid-week trip up the West Coast with mates when I’m home.
Are the players allowed to surf during a tour of, lets say New Zealand or Australia, or is it deemed too much of a risk for injury?
We encourage players to get away from the game, because we know the value of mentally fresh players. They are actively encouraged to take time off, especially on long tours, to go surfing, fishing, golfing, or whatever healthy pursuit that gets their mind off the game. I am leading by example, so am going off to the Mentawais during our tour to the UK. Ok, maybe I’m pushing it, but it’s a trip of a lifetime, and I believe in living life fully.
Read more about Paddy and his adventures by checking out his blog: