On July 24, UC Berkeley head men’s tennis coach Peter Wright and assistant coach Tyler Browne were featured on an episode of “MythBusters” titled “Commercial Myths.” The “MythBusters” team needed to debunk a myth sprung from a viral video: Can a tennis match be played on a moving airplane’s wing? We sat down with coach Wright to discuss what the experience was like.
The Cal coaches were called upon to help provide some on-the-court tennis training to the “MythBusters” team of Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci. To start off, Wright and Browne helped the team learn some basic tennis volleying skills. While both coaches are familiar with the show, Browne is supposedly a huge “MythBusters“ fan, and the two were surprised to learn that Tory Belleci, one of the members of the “MythBusters” team, was a tennis player in high school. When asked which of the “MythBusters” team members would make the best fit for the UC Berkeley tennis team, Wright responded, “Tory was definitely somebody we could put on our team,” adding, “they’re all good athletes, and they learn pretty quickly.”
But the “MythBusters” team wasn’t the only group doing the learning. The UC Berkeley coaches had to get used to being surrounded by a large camera crew on the courts. “You do tend to get a little nervous, but I think over time, you learn not to pay that much attention to the cameras,” Wright said.
After learning the basics, the team brought out some giant fans to stimulate the kind of headwind they would encounter on the wing of a flying plane going at 35 miles per hour. But the actual process of bringing the fans onto the courts wasn’t exactly as smooth as it seems on screen. “These are the big industrial fans they use in Hollywood … they had trouble fitting them into the facility,” Wright said.
After hours of playing tennis beside giant, wind-creating fans, the team was ready for takeoff on the local Alameda runway, where they volleyed with Browne on a moving airplane wing. As the episode demonstrates, this was no easy feat. “It was scarier than it might have looked, driving along at around 35 to 40 miles per hour. It was dangerous. Safety features were all in place, but it was a challenge,” Wright said. “Everybody who went up there was a little nervous at first.”
This isn’t the first “MythBusters” episode that has used UC Berkeley resources. “They love the facility; they love being at Cal … they’ve done several “MythBusters” shows with Cal athletes,” said Wright. “They were just super casual and very comfortable to be around.”
It wasn’t until about a year later that the show aired, and the final episode came as a surprise to everyone. “We had no idea what was going to be on the show, and in the two-minute preview, neither Tyler nor I was on it. They had a third person, Guy Needham, who also attended Cal, and the two-minute preview was mostly him. And then we saw the show a few days later … and we were both in the show. It was really exciting,” Wright said. “We got a lot of really nice publicity. We had our Cal uniforms on; we got great community and national support. The United States Tennis Association publicized it to its members, and we got a lot of publicity within the tennis community. Everybody enjoyed it, and it was a lot of fun.”
You can watch a trailer for the full episode here.
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