This our latest article by ex pro surfer, who does not wish to be named – because of various controversial views. In this piece he tackles the ugliness and art of surfing for money.
Surfing at its highest level is intensely marketable and backed by major business interests. This means there is fair bit of coin to be divided amongst its forerunners.
However, like musicians who are lured to sign lucrative record contracts, professional surfers too often confront the prospect of selling out. People surf because they love to, not because of the monetary rewards.
When I was a pro for a few years I was making a living from the sport. But I still felt as if I surfer for love of the sport not because it was a job.
Yes I was won some prizes and had some sponsors. But I never felt like I was doing the 9 to 5 out on the line up. I always chose to surf because I love it.
But there are much bigger sponsorship, endorsements and contest prizes floating around for those at the top. And this has injected capitalist values into an activity we’re supposed love with the purest intentions.
The heady values of surfing are deeply rooted. Surfing is far from a viable career path if you want to be rich.
Still, the sport has become a way to make a very good living for a select few. And if some money is good, perhaps more is better?
Add youthful competitors to the mix and the result is a maelstrom of posing and one-upping. And perhaps worse, phony nonchalance.
Regardless of the nauseating behavior, it’s easy to agree that some people plain and simply deserve to make a living in the water. Surely it’s up to them to sell out or not?
Those who are talented enough to be labeled professional surfers are either competition surfers or free-surfers. The former buys their bread with contest winnings and endorsements, the latter with advertisements, social endorsements and magazine covers.
One surfs to impress judges, the other to impress the camera. So what’s purer? The contest surfer paddles for 30-minute periods to throw enough turns to be able to don his sponsors hat in the tent before the next round.
While the “free”-surfer is only free to the extent he has to get on this flight with this photo crew and slap a sticker on his board. All so there can be a shot of his face and their logo in the midst of a mighty cut back. It seems like two sides of the same sell-out coin to me.
Then who is the real professional?
There’s something intrinsically acceptable about competition. Any sport demands contest to determine who is better than who. It’s ancient gladiators in battle. From boxing to olympic table tennis, it’s understandable and relatable.
But there’s also something soulful about travel and untimed sessions. The free-surfer is free to surf the way they want to surf, not how the judges want them to surf.
Like any other profession, the only difference between ugly glutton and whimsical artist in the professional surfing world is the motivation. What drives those professionals is perhaps more important than the financial outcome of their career.
Are they competing for the purse or for the victory? Are they traveling for the cheque or for the waves? And what if they’re doing either to feed their families or to send their kids to school? What if it’s only become a means to end like any other mundane job?
The danger of doing what you love for money is that you stop doing it for love. Remove the money and you’ll remove this concern. While this doesn’t seem likely for contest or free-surfers, money doesn’t come into it for most surfers.
And this is the sports saving grace. No matter how corrupt or greedy or sold-out any pro surfer becomes, most of us are still only paddling out for one reason.
We hope you found this look at the ugliness and art of surfing for money interesting. Please check out our surfing holiday discounts as you could save a fortune on your next trip.