Shoe me the Money

Curl - - Curl.co.nz - Words by Lucy Curno | Im­ages by Cory Scott

The deaf­en­ing roar of the waves and they pro­pel to­wards the shore with an almighty force, the feel­ing of sand as it moves be­tween your toes and per­sis­tently clings to your hair and most other parts of your body, and that feel­ing as you walk out of the wa­ter, board in hand, with the morn­ing sun on your back. Noth­ing com­pares to the feel­ing of spend­ing your days at the beach.

On sec­ond thought, the only thing that does com­pare with this is spend­ing your days at ex­otic beaches from all cor­ners of the globe in a year­long sum­mer, while surf­ing some of the best breaks in the world – and get­ting paid for it.

Hav­ing a surf­ing ca­reer is syn­ony­mous to liv­ing the dream. The clos­est most of us will get to this kind of ex­pe­ri­ence is flick­ing through surf­ing mag­a­zines on our lunch break or star­ing in­tently at that trop­i­cal wall­pa­per on the desk­top – hop­ing maybe if you stare long enough you will be trans­ported to that world of golden sand and per­fectly break­ing waves.

How­ever some­one has to do it, and at the mo­ment we have an amaz­ing team of pro­fes­sional surfers, male and fe­male, young and old, rep­re­sent­ing their coun­tries from the warm wa­ters of the many world seas.

Like any pro­fes­sional ath­lete, these surfers all rely on the fi­nan­cial sup­port of a range of spon­sors to make it pos­si­ble to get on that world stage and com­pete fiercely to take home those world ti­tles. How­ever in­creas­ingly, with the fi­nan­cial down­fall of surf com­pa­nies such as Bil­l­abong, pro­fes­sional surfers in New Zealand and around the globe are strug­gling with find­ing spon­sor­ship de­spite hav­ing the rank­ings and abil­ity to suc­ceed.

The de­creas­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port avail­able from main­stream spon­sors is also cre­at­ing a more com­pet­i­tive play­ing field for surfers. It’s see­ing con­tro­versy over fe­male surfers be­ing spon­sored be­cause of their at­trac­tive­ness, as well as male surfers ac­quir­ing spon­sor­ship a lot more read­ily than fe­males. These un­der­ly­ing is­sues are of course rel­e­vant in many sports, and aren’t new to the surf­ing in­dus­try, but seem to be get­ting more prom­i­nent as the bat­tle for spon­sor­ship rises.

New Zealand’s top fe­male surfer, and cur­rently ranked 11th in the world, Paige Hareb has bat­tled with spon­sor­ship dif­fi­cul­ties first hand. Af­ter part­ing ways with her main spon­sor, Bil­l­abong, a few years ago she had to use other meth­ods to find the fund­ing for the World Tour.

She be­gan us­ing a crowd fund­ing web­site owned by Kiwi, Craig Wil­liamson, but says she didn’t re­ally like the idea of tak­ing money from ran­dom people who could be in a worse po­si­tion than her. De­spite this, the web­site turned out to be a suc­cess. “It def­i­nitely paid for a few air­fares, it was awe­some, took the stress off me a lot and just to see how much sup­port people want to give!” Be­ing a Kiwi can of­ten be seen as an ob­sta­cle in terms of find­ing spon­sor­ship, as New Zealan­ders are no­to­ri­ous for not al­ways putting them­selves out there and ‘toot­ing their own horn’.

When Paige first be­gan to tour she did find her­self com­pet­ing against Aus­tralian girls for spon­sor­ship and also found that spon­sors loved the Amer­i­cans, but now she sees that be­ing a Kiwi is ac­tu­ally a ben­e­fit be­cause she doesn’t have to com­pete with many oth­ers. Paige has found new spon­sors DHL, and Subaru who are sep­a­rate from the surf in­dus­try.

These kinds of ob­sta­cles with spon­sor­ship seem to just be part of the game you have to play when striv­ing for a suc­cess­ful surf­ing ca­reer. How­ever, Paige is first to ad­mit that re­gard­less of her strug­gles with spon­sor­ship she has en­joyed ex­pe­ri­ences that many people only dream of. “I think of all the price­less things that I have ex­pe­ri­enced, like see­ing the world, meet­ing new in­ter­est­ing people, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures and food.”

Hawai­ian pro free- surfer Keala Ken­nelly says surf­ing is re­ally be­com­ing more like any other job in the way that spon­sored surfers are ex­pected to pro­duce valu­able prod­uct and re­main an as­set to their spon­sors.

“It’s hard to find any cons when you are get­ting paid to do the sport you love but I would say the big­gest con for me [be­ing spon­sored] is feel­ing like I have to push my lim­its in big surf more and more ev­ery year. Big wave surf­ing is a very dan­ger­ous sport and when you feel pres­sure

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