Over the past decade I’ve had the privilege of working with some of South Africa’s finest action- and adventure-sports athletes. Seriously bad ass cats who make a living from their respective sports.

Surfers, rally drivers, climbers, BASE jumpers, FMX dudes, triathletes and trail runners. Among others. While they’re all characters in their own right and have widely differing training, performance and competition philosophies, the recent few years have seen a common thread emerge among those most successful:

‘…respect the process…’

As a freelance writer by trade (code for word mercenary) I’ve come to realise that the ‘creative’ process is a strange animal. The dynamic is unique for everyone and difficult to describe. It can be a lonely place. Yet, what all the great creatives (I loathe the term) of our time (and before) will tell you is to ‘respect the process’… Let it flow, somewhere along the line the idea will find an anchorage, the path will light up and the dots will start connecting themselves. Somehow the ‘story’ will write itself.

Weirdly, I’ve never connected that directly to fly fishing. Not until the likes of Jordy Smith, Matt Trautman and Ryan Sandes started talking about it in depth. Sandes kind of articulated it best. Today, it has everything to do with fishing for me. And right now, grunter fishing. ‘Sand’ grunter.

Ryan Sandes (and Ryno Griesel) in the Himalaya. (c) Dean Leslie / Red Bull Content Pool
Ryan Sandes (and Ryno Griesel) in the Himalayas. (c) Dean Leslie / Red Bull Content Pool

“In the past, I was always kind of fixated too much on the end goal,” explains Sandes, the ultra trail-running ace, who, among an extensive list of other accolades won the ‘original’ trial race – the Western States 100-miler – in 2017 and ran all the way across the Himalayas (with Ryno Griesel) in 2018. Both were long-time goals for him, Western States especially. It proved the proverbial monkey he just couldn’t get off of his back.

Until he tweaked his approach.

(Watch the short ‘Dedication’ which documents the epic tale of his journey to that win, here.)

“I always kind of focussed on the race and got caught up in thoughts like ‘fck, what if it doesn’t go according to plan…’.”

I have yet to catch a legit sand grunt. I.e sight-fished, sub-surface on a sand flat. (For a beautifully succinct clarification on the differences between a ‘sand’ grunt and a ‘mud’ specimen, read this piece by Conrad Botes).

According to Sandes, while pouring all his mental energy into the process and the build-up of a race, he was stuck on the impending result. “I’ve since found that doing the best you can do in the build-up and the process, the result means almost nothing.”

Okay, so let’s be straight, even if you do everything right in the build up to a sandbank, estuary session and you come back mombakkies* – getting the all-too-often ‘fck you’ from the grunts it means a lot (i.e hurts). What I’ve learned from Sandes is that result shouldn’t be the focus.

Grunts live here
Grunts live here

Focus on the process…

“In some way, on an ultra-distance trail race you cannot really control the result,” he says… “There are just too many variables.”

But, if you pay attention to the process. Respect it and let it takes its course, the result is usually the favourable one you were after

Sandes, of course, believes goals are hugely important and he wouldn’t have reached those milestones if he wasn’t training toward something. (And had not been visualising those wins as part of his mental build-up).

The trick is to let that visualisation be part of the process and not cloud it.

My ultimate goal for this ‘season’ is to get that sand grunt monkey off my back. Countless hours have already gone into the pursuit, over the years, you understand but I finally feel like the process and the learnings are coming together. The time spent studying what the sand gurus do, watching and dreaming about those fish and how they behave (on a particular bank). How their food sources behave (on the same unique bank). Which tide needs to hit that bank on what phase of the moon. And, where I need to be, on that bank…

Also, the box is where it should be. That is a micro process all in itself, a critical part of the bigger process. Along with a lone original MC Coetzer JAM soldier (which he kindly gifted me a year back), I have a batch of LeRoy Botha’s articulated sandprawn JAMs. It’s a confidence game – and those flies are the ultimate boost.

LeRoy Botha's articulated sandprawn JAM
LeRoy Botha’s articulated sandprawn JAM

JAM SBS by Peter Coetzee, here

“When I think back on my career, I don’t kind of think of winning Leadville or Skyrun, Western States or whatever…” Ryan says.

What stands out is the process behind each of those big highlights – of how I got there and the special memories along the way

As with most of us, the build up to that first sand grunt could (or rather ‘should’) fill a volume. Stay tuned.

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