barrels of cash

Want to be a Pro Surfer?

So you want to be a pro surfer?

The Surf Nomad recently had one of our Twitter followers ask us an interesting question.

“Do you guys sponsor surfers?”

Now the bottom line is, The Surf Nomad is not about all that.  Never the less we are interested in exploring the matters that interest the community that we are seeking to build. As such, we asked the kid a few questions to see if we could get into his head and find out what his expectations were in regards to being sponsored.  Like so many others out there, he is a super keen young surfer who watches the pros on the tour in the ASP and spends a lot of time dreaming about being paid to surf.

Now The Surf Nomad has seen lists kicking around the net and it seems to be the commonly held belief that the following surfers are the world’s top earners. The income estimates listed include contest winnings combined with corporate endorsements and frankly the sponsorship bucks far outweigh the prize purses.

Surfer Annual Income
John John Florence $5 million
Dane Reynolds $4 million
Kelly Slater $4 million
Joel Parkinson $3 million
Mick Fanning $3 million
Kolohe Andina $2 million
Julian wilson Smith $2 million
Jordy Smith $2 million
Steph Gilmore $1.8 million
Taj Burrow $1.5 million

Becoming a Tee Shirt Salesman

We at The Surf Nomad would not take a dime away from any of the deserving carvers listed above. We reckon they earn every penny they make but what of our young friend and his dreams of being paid to surf?  Well, sadly, the reality is a long way from the dream.  For a start there are not a huge number of companies that are actively interested in paying you to surf. The ones that do like Billabong, Quiksilver, Hurley, Volcom, and now RedBull are not just throwing money at any kid that can stick an air reverse.

Make no mistake there is one reason that companies sponsor surfers. You are a billboard for their product.  They aren’t paying you to go surfing they are paying you to sell tee shirts, surfboards, fizzy beverages or whatever.  In order to do that you have to have a profile, you have to be recognisable, people have to know who you are.  RedBull are not going to sponsor you because you are the hottest kid on your local peak. They don’t give a crap about that because the world at large doesn’t know who the hell you are. It’s no good being the best surfer in your crew you have to have a profile that is going to move product.

The Surf Nomad did a quick calculation to work out how many shirts you might have to sell to earn a $2 million salary.  Working back from a retail price of $50 per shirt to a wholesale price of around $20 per unit. Presuming the manufacturer’s markup is around 100% on top of the cost of production, each shirt sold in store costs the company about $10.  So to break even on a $2 million investment in a pro surfer they would more or less have to be able to attribute the sale of at least 200,000 tee shirts to that person.

Of course they are not in the business of breaking even so you can assume that the sale of 200,000 tee shirts would not be enough to justify your existence. It would probably be closer to 3 or 400,000 units.  Which equates to around $15-20 million in retail sales directly or indirectly attributable to you.

Can you deliver what it takes?

So how could an aspiring young pro hope to get the kind of profile that will move that much product.  There is pretty much one answer to that.  You have to be posting solid competition results. You have to be able to do it under pressure and you have to do it consistently.  There are literally thousands of surfers out there that can pull a wave out of the bag that would stack up against John John Florence. The difference is that JJ can pull em out when he’s up against fierce competitors like Fanning, Slater, Medina.   Can you do that?

Now let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you think you can.  In the following chart we have summarised the competition earnings of the 941 competitors in the MQS for 2014.


Want to be a pro surfer?

You can see from this that the vast majority of players earned less than $1000.  The fact of the matter is a kitchen hand in Australia earns $36,000 p.a. which means that approximately 95% of surfers on the Qualifying Circuit would be financially better off washing dishes for a living and we are sure that a lot of them probably do.

For every winner there are hundreds of losers

Based on these figures it can be assumed that, of the 941 guys in who participated in a QS event in 2014 approximately 700  bombed out in the first or second round. The thing is that those guys that bomb are probably among the best at their local break they’ve probably garnered the support  a local surf shop or shaper that is supplying them with some gear but that is a far cry from the kind of cash you need to sustain yourself on the tour.  With airfares, accommodation and food to think about while you are travelling the globe you would need to be making  somewhere between 3 and 5 grand per event just to break even and you won’t find many local shapers or surf shops with that kind of ready cash.

So how can you make a living from surfing?

For a start get some skills out of the water.  The richest people in the surfing industry are not the pros they are the guys that own the pros.  You can bet Gordon Merchant (Founder of Billabong) made a lot more money selling boardies than any surfer he ever sponsored and he didn’t do it by being a dope.

Also consider the fact that, of the 23 million or so surfers in the world, the richest ones aren’t on the list above hell they probably don’t even work in the industry. These people can travel where and when they want.  They can ride whatever board they like and wear whatever Tee Shirt they choose. They don’t have to chug some crappy soft drink every time they are in front of a camera or wear clothes emblazoned with one logo or another.

These guys are more likely to be software engineers or doctors or scientists.  They are working on billion selling apps or cures for cancer and simply surf because they love it.

There is a lot to be said for doing something for love rather than money.

Give it some thought kids.

Stay in school.

Carve On!

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