‘Hey, I’m a surfer, sponsor me!’
‘Do you sponsor?’
‘I surf just as good as that person. I should be sponsored…. ‘
I hear this a lot. I get emails from young girls asking if I can sponsor them or find them a sponsor. Not even a simple ‘hello’ or a quick paragraph to tell me their name, where they’re from, how long they’ve been surfing and why they want to be sponsored. It’s just a one-sentence email or a three word social media message. I’ve had girls as young as six years old asking for sponsorship and have been told by parents to sponsor their girls as young as three because they are surfers.
I recently saw an email come through from a young girl begging to be sponsored because her friends didn’t think she could surf. She just had to get sponsored so her friends would respect her. When I saw this email it pulled on a few heartstrings. Here was a young girl who felt so much pressure from her peers to surf well and be sponsored before she gained any sort of respect.
She felt she had to beg for sponsorship to give her that respect. She wasn’t asking for tips on her surfing or asking me to point her in the right direction in terms of coaching, skills, nutrition or lifestyle changes. She wasn’t asking for advice on her situation with her peers. She only wanted that sponsorship badge. That’s what she felt was going to get her respect. I hated the thought that this girl and likely a fair few others out there felt this sort of pressure.
Surfing is one of those sports that are so heavily reliant on external funding like sponsorships and endorsements to earn a living as a professional surfer. Unless you are doing well on the WSL Championship Tour, you’re going to need a few dollars to support your work-free surf lifestyle. And wouldn’t we all want that!
Sponsorship means a lot to events and the governing bodies of competitive surfing. It can mean a lot to local boardriders clubs, artists, surfers and parents alike. But what does surfing mean to the young female grommet who is striving to be a pro surfer, a free surfer, surf model or she just simply enjoys surfing? Why do I have parents asking me to sponsor their three-year-old daughters or to find them a sponsorship from Billabong, Hurley, Roxy and Rip Curl when they are just getting to their feet on foam-top boards in 1ft white-wash? It’s sad to think that this expectation that surfers must be sponsored to be respected has developed over the years.
To be a sponsored surfer is a prestigious honor for both the surfer and the brand. In most cases the brand has entrusted that surfer to be a great role model, a top-level surfer and to promote their brand in the best possible light. A sponsorship or an endorsement is principally a partnership between both parties. In short, I scratch your back and you scratch mine. I give you money to live your dreams, travel, compete and in return you promote my brand, bring me a good image, bring me sales. At the end of the day if the brand isn’t selling their product they won’t survive. So it only makes sense that their marketing budgets are carefully considered.
There are millions of hopeful surfers around the world and I dare say we would all like a bit of extra cash in our pocket and would love to be aligned to a popular and/or respected surf brand, especially the competitive surfers around the world. Ask any random grom on the spot to name some surf brands and they’ll probably give you a list of five off the top of their head. When we look at the big surf industry brands that have been heavily involved in major individual surf sponsorship in recent years we are only really looking at around twenty to forty brands. That’s forty brands to feed the masses.
Whenever I’m asked for sponsorship I ask that surfer what they are going to do for the brand. ‘What are you going to do in return for all that free product and/or money you want them to give you?’ The most common answer is along the lines of… ‘I’ll put a sticker on my board. I surf well, so they get to be associated with me.’ Yes, I can see some value there. ‘But what else are you going to do? Why should a brand give you their hard earned money?’ A lot of the time they are left confused. ‘Isn’t that enough? I put a sticker on my board. I surf well. Why wouldn’t that be enough?’ By this stage the surfer is usually left confused and frustrated and usually reverts back to sledging other sponsored surfers. ‘I surf way better than that other person who’s sponsored by (Roxy, Billabong, Rip Curl etc) I should be sponsored too!’
A lot of girls out there want that spotlight. They want to be the models used in photo shoots and catalogues, billboards and on social media. They happily share daily imagery of their lives in bikinis that can make us wish we were living that dream instead of our own daily grind. For some girls that tick all those boxes, the elite surfers, the respected surfers, the quintessential surfer girl looks, the size 8-10 figure, those with personality and the media savvy … Yes, big dollar sponsorship from brands that sell bikinis and surf fashion will probably come easier to you. But for the rest of us that don’t tick all the boxes, we shouldn’t feel any less like a surfer if we aren’t sponsored. We shouldn’t feel any less like we have a right to be in the lineup. Well, unless it’s 10ft heaving Maui and you’re a learner.
There are both men and women on the WSL Championship Tour that don’t have a major sponsor. They are some of the best surfers in the world and even they don’t have the support of a major sponsor. It can be hard to persuade company big wigs to part with their hard earned funds to support you to live your dreams. Maybe you do tick all the boxes but there just simply isn’t anything left in the marketing budget to support you or anyone else for that matter. I’ve worked for big dollar global brands in the past where you have to beg the CEO for two bucks to buy some paper clips. Can you imagine the process for trying to reward an up and coming athlete with a $5k/$100k/$500k a year sponsorship contract? Whether it’s a multi-million dollar surf brand, a global logistics company or a philanthropist, you’re still asking someone to give you their hard earned money.
If you’re child is three years old or you’re an aspiring teenage surfer, don’t let the pressure of a sticker on your board control your happiness or your confidence in or out of the water. Just like a lot of sports, surfing through the ranks can be a really expensive journey as a young adult. It can be really tough on parents trying to support their child’s dreams. Competing on the junior circuits and World Qualifying Series can see you spending in excess of $50,000 just to get around to all of the competitions. Some of us will always be doing it tougher than others. In a lot of other sports, even the elite level athletes, Olympians and world champions are just doing it for the love of it. There is hardly any money in the sport whatsoever.
With the recent increase in WSL prize money, a $262,500USD purse (per event) for those on the Championship Tour in 2015 can definitely put a fire in the belly. But if that prize money wasn’t there and just say there were absolutely no sponsorship dollars on the table for you now, or fifteen years down the track… Would you still surf?
Founder/ Athlete Manager
Girl Surf Network