Business, Focus Edition Sound, Focus & Balance
By: Andy King • 4 years ago •
I started walking, talking and surfing all at the same time. At 3 I was riding the waves off the ferry in Gunnamatta Bay. My father moved out from Manchester and was obsessed with the water and surfing. Considering he was an Englishman, he surfed really well and was a big member of the surf community. At the alley in Cronulla, South Sydney, there was a grass patch by Joe’s Milk Bar where we all hung out. I spent most of my days on that grass patch and I didn’t really know anyone outside my family that was not part of the surfing community. We were lucky enough to have world class surfers like Gary Green that we watched and learned from. There was a hot-bed of talent there when I was growing up.
From 1996, I had a professional career, so for 8 years I travelled the world, surfing. Life was going really well and in 2004, I scored the highest 2 wave score in Newcastle. Two weeks after that, I had a run in with a bunch of footballer’s who were abusing my girlfriend. After receiving a punch, I fell and my head hit the gutter ending my surfing career. With that one punch, I went from an elite athlete to an invalid and spent the next seven months in total silence. I fractured my skull and smashed both my saccules, so as well as being 100% deaf, I also have no equilibrium. So when I am getting off a plane, if the roof is rolled, I will stagger because I cannot box the room with my eyes. This has led to a few run-ins with the federal police because I look really drunk.
I now have a cochlea implant but I chose to only get a single implant, as I am hoping that technology will develop an internal implant. At the moment I have to take the external part off in the ocean, so I am completely deaf when surfing. Darkness is also a real challenge because my vision is where I get balance from now.
Seven months of silence is a great way to work out where your life went wrong.
I took responsibility for my actions that night and that has been part of my recovery. I chose to walk across the street, when I should have gone home and I have empathy for Stephen Taylor who denied his responsibility. He ended up going to court and it completely ruined his life as well. He was just trying to impress his mates and I was just trying to protect my girlfriend. He was charged with aggravated grievous bodily harm and had to serve 1,000 hours of community service. Two lives were changed that night but if it happened today, he could have received 10 years.
It changes you when you go from an elite athlete, to an invalid with a nurse helping you go to the toilet. I don’t tend to worry what anyone else thinks now. When you go from complete independence, to complete dependence, you actually get a lot of freedom. You have no fear of risks because you don’t have far to fall from the gutter. While that can sound good, sometimes I have to be careful because I can offend people being too brutal with the truth.
Back to the Surf
The first doctors told me that I would never go back to the water, but it was Dr Phillip Chang, Victor Chang’s son, who performed the cochlea operation and he encouraged me to go back to surfing. Nowadays, I use a special floatation vest when I cannot touch the bottom because when my eyes are closed, I don’t know where the surface is.
After the injury, I was approached by Red Bull who wanted to run a surf program. I got to work with their junior athletes, start travelling the world and use the network that I had developed as an athlete. In four years I had five athletes qualify for the world tour. As I travelled with them, my main role was to make their journey challenging and supported. My biggest impact was making sure they were comfortable and acting as a sounding board. Results followed when I took care of their health and wellbeing.
In 2008, I moved to Los Angeles and lived with Andy Walsh who was my performance director. Andy is an absolute genius and took the program that I had created, tripled the funding and added amazing technology, psychologists and nutritionists. My time with Red Bull and Andy was the most defining point in my life and he is still my mentor today.
After 7 years, Red Bull moved towards a more cultural feel and I felt my time with them was done. I saw the National Coach job vacancy in July 2013 and what was most attractive, was that it came with AIS support. I am extremely patriotic and knew that I could make a big difference to the sport of surfing for Australian athletes, so I took the role and moved from LA back to Casuarina. I work with a fantastic coach, Clancy, who does the development work with an amazing technical eye. He has strengths where I still need work, so I constantly learning.
Consistent Focus is my Life
The first three years following the accident were exhausting as my brain remapped itself. Every time I got up, moved or did anything, I had to concentrate so I didn’t fall over. I was forced to focus on everything and it’s something you have to be consistent with. I still have to do certain exercises daily to maintain my ability to stand up and walk, etc.
One of the key things I have to focus on is conversations. I have to lip-read a lot and have learnt to read people’s body language so that I can tell if someone is engaged. I’m a pretty confident person, so when I go into a room for a meeting, I design the room so I can see everyone’s face. I need to be able to see the body language and this definitely translates to coaching.
I hate the word disability. The fact is, my other senses are heightened and I have gained other abilities. With my personal insurance, I had the option to go on benefits for the rest of my life, but it would have capped what I could have earned and restricted my future. There is no way, as a self-centred professional athlete, that I would be in my current situation.
Coaching is pretty personal and a lot of my sessions are individual. While every athlete has a goal with plans and strategies, each athlete will process information completely differently. I have learnt that you cannot use a blanket style of coaching. I have to engage individually, hear their feedback individually and find their individual situation. Every athlete is working towards a world title, but for their own reasons, using their own personal drive.
I think that most supreme athletes are a little troubled and they have harness that to drive them.
Whether their goals are family, financial or performance related, each person has their own reason to achieve. You have to understand your own drive. Most world champions and gold medallists are troubled humans to some extent. There is something burning in them, to prove something greater than themselves.
I see that women in our sport are really connected to their family. They usually have multiple male role models with the fathers being really involved. Athletes that have been really successful are those that have had that freedom like Steph Gilmore. She is super competitive but manages to do it using grace and flow and has managed to keep her personality. In contrast, Layne Beachley really believed in women’s surfing and had to fight tooth and nail to get recognised in the sport. Every surfing girl is in debt to that woman.
Now there is a shift in journey with money and professionalism, so the athletes don’t have to do it all themselves. This is creating its own challenges with parents pushing too hard. Surfing is an expression of art and if parents are pushing too hard, then these creative abilities can be lost.
Men’s surfing is changing fast too. It’s all encompassing and to win a world title, you have to consistently reinvent yourself. The focus is never fixed and you have to keep creating new things. They focus on how to entertain people and get their edge. You cannot win a world title the same way twice. Mick Fanning is coming up to his fourth world title and everything changes for each title. His training, his mind-set, even his body size is reshaped for each title challenge.
Focus is a daily journey for all of us
My focus as a coach? I want my athletes to compete and enjoy what they are doing, then, on this, we build skills for the rest of their lives. I want them to be a complete person first before we focus on world titles. Each athlete is different, but they can all be a complete person in themselves. The focus shifts daily, so my role as a coach is to keep on top of that. I know what the end game is and how we are going to get the but focus is a daily journey for all of us.
Andy King is a former top 35 WQS surfer and was Head Coach of the Red Bull Surfing Program for seven years working closely with three-time ASP World Champion Mick Fanning and fellow World Tour competitors Julian Wilson, Adriano de Souza, Michel Bourez and Tiago Pires. Brought up in Cronulla and coming through the ranks of the Cronulla Boardriders Club, Andy was ranked 27 on the WQS when a career-ending injury in 2004 bought his competitive days to an end. Andy was faced with two options – either let the incident box him in as a victim or pick himself up and give back to the sport that had given him so much. A role as a mentor became available with Red Bull and Andy played a key role in creating a smooth pathway for juniors through the WQS to the ASP World Tour. With four of his surfers qualifying for the elite level of the sport after progressing through his program, Andy spent four years on the World Tour as a mentor and coach for the surfers before joining Surfing Australia in 2013.
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