Sick of the current tits and ass for sponsorship perception in womens surfing? This one is for you.
Article // Kim Eulenstein – Founder of Girl Surf Network and sports marketing professional.
Thu, 13 July 2017.
Part of my job working in surfing is attending the occasional grom comp around the country. I’m there in support of the junior athletes I look after, their parents, support the event itself and also act as a journalist for Girl Surf Network and a few other surf media platforms. It’s great watching the next generation of surfing go head to head at what is probably the biggest, most important competition of their young lives.
At a recent comp I had a parent standing next to me having a healthy chinwag while watching a heat in the water. I was keeping a keen eye on this heat as I work closely in mentorship and development with one of the girls in it. The conversation was very casual at first. There was the standard assessment of the conditions, how well the comp is being run, pointing out a few good manoeuvres and the kids to watch in the event. It was what came after that which really struck a chord with me.
For the sake of this article I’m going to refer to this young surfer as ‘Sally’ and the parent as ‘Bob’. The conversation went something like this.
‘So I hear you’re looking after Sally now? That’s great! She’s got so much potential. A real shredder!’ said Bob. I agreed. She does have a lot of potential. But you can’t just rely on potential. There is so much more to becoming an elite athlete.
‘It’s a shame she’s not going to get much with the sponsors though.’ Bob was starting to venture into a deeper conversation.
‘What do you mean Bob?’ I asked. Curious to pick the brain of a parent at this level of competition.
‘Well it’s a who you know kind of thing now isn’t it? You don’t even have to be a good surfer these days. You just have to know people. Or have one hundred thousand followers on social media… or show your tits and ass on Instagram. That’s what gets you sponsored these days.’
I could have jumped in at this point but I was very keen to hear his perspective.
‘Look at Sally.’ He pointed at her walking out of the lineup after just winning her heat. Her board was almost blank apart from the shapers logo embedded under the fibreglass. I’ll also point out that Sally is only 13 years old.
‘She shreds and she doesn’t have any sponsors yet. Bet she’ll have to start showing her ass to get one.’ Bob spoke with all confidence. He strongly believed that was what you need to do to get sponsors. He believed that was what you needed to do to succeed in this sport. ‘We’re looking to change that thought Bob. Don’t for a second think that I’ll be pointing her in that direction.’ I ended our little chinwag on that note before moving along. It’s always good to hear these perspectives. It keeps my eyes open.
The sad thing here is I could have picked up on a few negative connotations and ventured into a solid debate with Bob. In that case I’d be there for hours and frankly I think this needs a bigger audience. Instead I’m writing a piece on Girl Surf Network, one of the largest, most respected female surf platforms in the world. GSN has a range of surfers in its ever-growing global network. From grass-roots surfers through to elite World Champions. I’m putting this to you all. Whether you are a junior surfer or a World Champion. This is for every female surfer and parent around the world. The common saying as mentioned above is alarming on so many levels. I’m going to shine a light on a few of them now.
Listen carefully. You DO NOT need to resort to ‘showing your tits and ass’ to get sponsors. Let me say that again. You DO NOT need to resort to ‘showing your tits and ass’ to get sponsors. I know that this may be hard to understand for a fair few surfers and parents out there. I completely understand where this common belief has originated from and how it has grown over the years. I understand the Instagram followers, the popularity, the confidence level, the prestige, the money, the jealously and the want vs need factor. I understand the costs of travelling and supporting your own or your kids sporting endeavours. I’ve worked in sports, media, marketing and sponsorships for years and although I’m an avid surfer, I’m definitely not wet behind the ears in this regard. I’ll also throw it out there that I have worked with the sexy girls with the big followings and with the conservative girls with minimal followings. I’ve seen it all. So why am I concerned?
Whether it’s true or not… this belief and the casual spreading of it is hurting us. Even the smallest mentions of anything along the lines of ‘ having to show your tits and ass to get sponsors’ embeds a belief in young females that this is what you have to do to get sponsors. It’s saying that there is no other way. It also implies that every brand is only after the sexy image and that all of the girls that are sponsored are only in those positions due to their looks. Pretty insulting to a lot of surfers and brands out there right? Try telling WSL World Champion Tyler Wright she was only picked up by Rip Curl (and is still sponsored by Rip Curl) because she shows her ‘tits and ass’. Try telling Courtney Conlogue, also one of the best surfers in the world, that she is only sponsored by Billabong because she’s ‘sexy’.
There are a lot of brands in the surfing industry that have sponsored females over the years for their surfing ability over anything else. The generalisation of this sex sells form of marketing and sponsorship is outdated and damaging to the industry as a whole.
Over the many years I have worked in surfing and a range of other sports I can ramble off a list of brands that have rejected working with the sexy girls and only work with the more conservative athlete image. Yes, there are brands that look for the big followings and the good looks. There are brands that work with both. There are also a lot that look for different angles with their partnerships. Promoting ‘sex sells’ as the only avenue for young females is wrong on so many levels.
To confirm your suspicions, brands do look at your Instagram history and google your name to get a feel for your public image. There is a lot more that goes into sponsorship and brand alignment then we commonly think. Being attractive in a marketing sense is not just about looks. Want some further reading here? Check out the most popular article ever written on Girl Surf Network: I’m a surfer, sponsor me.
If you are a competitive surfer in need of, or wanting sponsorship to get you to the next level and you can’t get it from the big surf brands maybe you should be looking outside of the surf industry. The big surf brands have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years supporting a large variety of surfers and events. But let’s face it. They can only spend so much money before the kitty dries up.
I am not writing this article to name and shame particular brands or surfers for venturing into the ‘sex sells’ arena. You’ll read a lot about that in my previous articles. I am writing this article to squash a very negative common perception and also shine a light on a different path.
I’m putting the call out to companies and brands around the world who would like to sponsor an elite junior surfer, World Qualifying Series surfer, World Tour surfer or a surfing event or initiative. If you run a small business or a large business and have a cash sponsorship at the ready I want to hear from you! There is a sea of businesses and brands out there. From Sally’s Florist and Bob’s Butcher to Optus, Jetstar, Mac and Ford. Here is your chance to get involved. Let’s smash this belief of having to show your ass to get sponsors. Let’s get behind the current and next generation of female surfers… Let’s get behind the athletes and help them and their families get to the countless events around the world in hope of cracking the WSL World Tour and/or the Olympics.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder – Girl Surf Network