Why two-time world champion Tyler Wright keeps a psychologist on the beach
Tyler Wright says she’s never leaving home without her psychologist, or her wife, again.
The world No.4 and two-time WSL champion is back “home” at Bells Beach this week, defending the 2022 Ripcurl Pro triumph she rates alongside her world titles as one of the greatest achievements of her career.
Small conditions at the iconic break on Tuesday are expected to continue for the next few days and delay the event’s start until later in the week.
While her brother Owen’s tour farewell at Bells promises to be an emotional affair, Tyler has also questioned her motivations after more than a decade on tour.
Working with Surfing Australia sports psychologist Jason Patchell and a core support group led by her wife Lilli Baker and coach Andy King helped Wright secure second- and third-place finishes at Pipeline and Sunset Beach, respectively.
“Then obviously I didn’t take them to Portugal and I hated it to be quite frank,” Wright tells The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Tyler Wright being chaired up the beach by her brothers Owen and Mikey after her Bells Beach triumph last year.Credit:Ed Sloane/WSL
The 29-year-old is quick to clarify that she loves Portugal as a destination. Her first-round bomb out at Peniche, not so much.
“I just didn’t see much point in being there,” she says. “People don’t like hearing that, but it’s the honest truth.
“The older I get, I realise I don’t really want to accommodate anyone other than myself in this arena. I’ve done a lot of work with my psychologist around why I’m re-entering this arena, why I keep competing. I’ve got my own challenges and so does everyone else.
Tyler Wright competing in Hawaii in February.Credit:World Surf League
“I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever dreamed of and originally set out to do. You have to be really in touch with why you’re still showing up.
“Having that really aligned with my whole team, we were all over there in Hawaii together and it was the best I’ve ever felt in the water … These guys help make me feel at home when I’m away 10 months of the year.
“They’re conflicting values – I want to be with my family, not away all year without that support when I’m putting my heart, mind and soul into something. But that’s what it takes to win world titles. So they’re coming with me.”
Wright and Patchell have worked together for five years, with Patchell also joining brother Owen and Australia’s surfing team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
But this is the first season the veteran sports psychologist has been on the sand with Tyler during events.
Wright’s career has weathered all manner of complications, not least the pressures that come with being the youngest surfer in history to qualify for the tour at age 16. Her rise eventually strained her relationship with her father while he acted as her manager.
Owen’s career-threatening head knock, her debilitating bout of post-viral syndrome after back-to-back world titles, grappling with the tour bubble and surfing stereotypes make for a bullish outlook at times. Baker’s presence when touring offers Wright not just “amazing support” but “a different understanding”.
“I’m the only queer person on tour, so my wife is the only other queer person I know most of the time,” Wright says. “I love everyone around me but she makes such a difference in a way only she really can.”
In the same way, Patchell is really on board for everything that comes Wright’s way out of the water, rather than in it.
“We actually don’t focus on the sport side of things that much, it’s the other things in life that have been quite chaotic for me,” she says.
“This is the first time I feel like I’ve ever been in a position to really, truly push for what I want competitively. It’s about sticking to my reasons for being at a competition, which is different to what other people are looking for from me.
“On comp days, we’re generally getting into the zone and not too much has to be said. It’s just a feeling of having the right people around me, I can slow things down, I can allow different emotions to come up and understand why I’m showing up, why I’m competing.
“Some things we’ll talk about and talk through. Other things, we’ve been working together for five years so not too much has to be said.”
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