No Surfer Will Ever Make The Forbes 100 Highest-Paid Athletes List
It's just a fact.
Buster Posey, the catcher for the San Francisco Giants, is the lowest paid athlete on Forbes 100 Highest-Paid Athletes list. He earns $20.8 million a year—$17.8 mil of which is a result of his Major League Baseball salary. The other $3 mil comes from various endorsements.
Not only is there not a surfer on the Forbes list, no surfer even comes close, and the fact of the matter is, they never will.
It’s agreeable that John John Florence is the highest paid surfer in the world. Last reports have his endorsements earning him approximately $3.2 million per year (Hurley, Monster, Stance, Futures, Spy, Pyzel, etc). And since 2011 he’s averaged about $260,000 per year in prize money from the WSL. No doubt that’s a lot of dough—but it ain’t Buster Posey money, and is certainly not Cristiano Ronaldo money. The fútbol star raked in a total of $88 million last year and topped the list.
The pro surfing structure guarantees that no surfer will ever earn a paycheck like Buster or Cristiano even in this new era of the WSL and “increased viewership,” there are no guaranteed salaries. And the prize money doesn’t come close to comparing to sports like golf or tennis.
But really, who's richer? Well, any other paid athlete in any mainstream professional sport... but we have more fun. Photo: Ryan MIller
In Kelly Slater, the winningest surfer ever’s 25 years on tour, he’s earned a paltry $3.8 million in career prize money. By comparison, last year Tiger Woods net earnings fall somewhere in the $1.3 billion zone. Last year alone he earned $274,000 in prize money to sit out and be miserable.
For Conner Coffin and the tour’s rookie class it’s a whole other story of depravity. Making the CT is supposed to be the payoff for all the years of sacrifice, but you have to crack the Top Ten and stay there if you really want any earning power. Meanwhile, the league minimum for a rookie in the NFL is $435,000 and a rookie in the NBA can expect to pull in about $525,000 for the season. No rookie on the world tour makes half a million dollars a year, not even Jack Freestone.
Some surfers are able to supplement their income through extracurricular business endeavors. Mr Slater being a prime example, however he’s just scratching the surface when it comes to the earnings of a mega sport’s star. In 2014 Forbes reported that Kelly had plans to sell his 73,500 shares of his GoPro stock (which he received for “promotional and consulting” costs). The sale was estimated to comprise 35% of his existing position in the company and that after taxes he’d walk away with $1.1 million. That’s roughly the income LeBron James earns weekly from his endorsement deals.
It's safe to say Mr Slater's doing just fine. Photo: Ryan Miller
The problem—which is the exact opposite of a problem for 99.9% of the surfers in the world—is that the pond’s just not that big. There are an estimated 3.3 million surfers in the United States (most of which surf Lowers exclusively). Meanwhile, there are about 25 million golfers in the U.S. Translation: you can sell a hell of a lot more golf shirts than Billabong logo tees… that’s assuming surfers would actually buy logo shirts.
Since the bottom fell out of the industry half a decade ago, the marketing budgets to support surf stars has never recovered. Brick-and-mortar surf shops are relying more and more on the sale of hard goods (surfboards, fins, leashes, wetsuits) to carry their business. So yes, the days of the $30 logo tee are gone and that impacts how much Joel Parko and Mick Fanning make. And while the WSL has attracted more mainstream money from sponsors like Jeep and Samsung, only one percent of the one percent benefit from those deals. And even then, as big as Gabriel Medina is in Brazil, he isn’t going to fetch nearly the same amount of money from a car sponsor like Jeep as somebody like Neymar Jr. is. He’s just not.
At the end of the day, don’t feel too bad for these guys, it could be worse… they could be surf photographers.