Shoe me the Money
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