The Stab Rich List 2018
Money is a terrible master but a wonderful servant.
This isn’t about the 99-percenters. This piece is about the one-percent of the one-percent. The select few consuming the cream on top – a bountiful prize for those talented and marketable enough to attain it.
In the past decade, there were 10 surfers breaking seven figures on a single contract alone: Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, Kolohe Andino, Jordy Smith, Dane Reynolds, Steph Gilmore, John John Florence, and Gabriel Medina. Today, that number has dwindled. Only John Florence, Julian Wilson, Mick Fanning, Kolohe Andino, and Gabriel Medina break the million-dollar marquee deal.
The link between a big-named surf roster and profits is becoming even more difficult to measure, or for that matter, justify. Consider the number of boardshorts that need to be sold, even at wholesale, to equate the salary of a $50k a year deal.
The secret to financial freedom in surfing is having a good surf industry backing (lovingly coined as “core” sponsors) and then topping up from non-conflicting, more mainstream brands. Like what Kanoa Igarashi is doing, but more on that later.
The biggest question for the surf industry right now is not whether the 00-glory days are returning – they’re not – but if the worst is yet to come. Perhaps the profitable sector of logo tees will become completely extinct; making the game all about hardware, boardshorts and wetsuits. If so, contracts will likely witness an ever further slide.
In the meantime, let’s inspect those who’ve made more in their 20’s than the rest will make in their entire lifetimes.
Here’s Stab’s Rich List of 2018 (all figures in $USD):
10 – Kai Lenny
There’s a reason we voted Kai Lenny the most influential surfer under 30 earlier this year. The 26-year old, craft-agnostic Hawaiian is more capable than anyone in the ocean. He’s this generation’s Laird Hamilton: a true waterman, just without the desire to eat fertile eggs and promote peculiar diets.
Kai didn’t take any BWWT victories in the past 12 months, but the surfing he did on waves lazily labelled XXL deftly blurs the line between high-performance and absurdity. Just as tow surfing seemed to wallow below paddles recent progress, Kai showed why a sub-6 foot board will get you places a gun never could. The top-turn to air-drop Kai did at Jaws last month nearly outshone the straight air he did there a year earlier. Mavericks however is his latest platform for snowboard-esque aerial. The future of big wave surfing shines bright as Kai paves the way.
Despite earning a measly $15,000 in prize money for the 2018/19 season thus far (plus a portion of his $39,000 from the 17/18 season), Kai earned over a million when endorsements are considered.
Holding considerable deals with brands like Hurley, Red Bull and Tag Heuer, Mr. Lenny earned $1,050,000 this year and is the year’s highest earner from the large wave department.
He’s gone from a multi-platform surf dork to one of the most lauded names in surfing – SUP, kite, paddle, wind, whatever.
“I never cared about what people thought of me and I’m sticking to my plan,” Kai told Stab. Kai has an indefatigable work ethic and mainstream appeal. Expect him to sit in this list for a long time to come.
Sponsors: Hurley, Nike, Red Bull, Tag Heuer, GoPro, Vertra.
Prize Money: $16k + $2k
9 – Steph Gilmore
Even without a World Title, Steph would’ve found herself amongst this list – the only woman and energy drink free surfer to do so. Her deal with women’s surf juggernaut Roxy plumps out most of her earnings, but in conjunction with other sponsors such as Nikon, Sanitarium, and Audi, she rises above the $1 million mark as surfing’s highest-earning woman.
For a small number of stickers adorned across her board, Steph is putting away considerable cash. Although we’re certain it’s her on board eloquence and out of water character which solidifies these deals, her sister-come-manager, Whitney, is the other half of Gilmore’s financial puzzle.
Several mill short of the top male athlete, the ever proclaimed gender gap is still existent in the highest thresholds of performance surfing – despite the WSL’s recent equal pay announcement. But don’t forget, next year Steph will be adding a Title bonus atop the pile (rumoured to be in the $350k zone).
Sponsors: Roxy, Sanitarium, Nikon, DHD, Audi, Breitling.
Prize Money: $343,450
8 – Jordy Smith
Starting 2018 with a string of uncharacteristic 13th place finishes, Jordy found himself lingering outside the top-22 by the time Brazil rolled around. Despite the unreliability of the gambler’s fallacy, Jordy turned the page throughout the seasons back half.
Despite being a few steps away from a legitimate title run, and persistently a round short of the finals, Jordy still finished in the top five for the year. His contract with the OG wetsuit company O’Neill (which he’s held since 2007) was renegotiated this year for a marginally smaller sum (from north of $1m down to $650k annually), but one which ensures he’ll still able to fund his insatiable shoe fetish.
Jordy also lost out in two other contracts: Channel Islands and Corona. While Jordy left his longtime board supplier’s $40,000 deal to explore the greater foam market of his own volition, his departure from an ambassador for Corona is a more complicated one
Not to worry though, with a lucrative Red Bull deal and a number of other smaller, but far from inconsequential deals with brands like Jeep, Oakley, Futures and Neff, Jordy retained a spot in this list despite knocking nearly a mill off his earnings from the year prior. A loss which would’ve climbed (read: slumped) a further $300k had he fallen out of the top six on the rankings. Similar to Kolohe’s contract, Jordy’s earnings depend upon tour success.
Sponsors: O’Neill, Red Bull, Futures, Trace, Oakley, Vestal, Neff, Jeep, Brand Black.
Prize Money: $200,200
7 – Kanoa Igarashi
The nation-hopping natural footer had a point to prove in 2018: ‘QS surfers’ are capable of competing in the big leagues. The surfing Kanoa did at Jeffreys this year was astounding. Not only did it far exceed expectations of the feeble Huntington beach grom, but he took down big, heavy-footed gents and devastatingly so.
He might only carry a seemingly inconsequential 170k in Insta followers, but his Japanese non-endemic sticker, Kinoshita group, along with a number of other non-surf endorsements from Dior and Audi, jumps Kanoa well above the million dollar tide mark. The Kinoshita group oversees businesses reaching from construction, real estate, child care, to medical products and is one of the largest such companies in Japan. While Dior and Audi endorse young Kanoa without the need to place a signalling sticker upon his board.
These deals have all been aided by Kanoa’s management, IMG Japan. Whose Japanese sector manage a range of Japanese athletes from tennis, to gymnastics, and skating, with their international component managing the likes of fellow surfer Laura Enever and divisive Aus tennis star, Nick Kyrgios.
Along with these non-endemic sponsorships Kanoa Igarashi also has the single biggest contract on the entire Boardriders’ roster (that’s Roxy, ‘Bong, RVCA and Quik). Meaning the recently amalgamated business sees more worth in the Huntington ‘native’ than the likes of Joel Parkinson, Mikey Wright, Steph Gilmore, and Jack Freestone. That’s not to mention his substantial deal with the taurine Bull and a sizeable deal with the function-over-aesthetic watch company, G-Shock. Kanoa also earned noteworthy bonuses for bringing Japan a gold medal in the recent ISA games, and will earn further bonuses when he’s Japan’s best surfer in the 2020 Olympics.
And while nothing’s eventuated yet, there’s rumours that clothing mega-conglomerate, Uniqlo, recently courted with Kanoa. The same Uniqlo that paid Roger Federer a $300 million 10 year deal to jump ship from Nike earlier this year.
With these endorsements Kanoa has been able to simultaneously invest his earnings and fulfil his travel desires. He owns two homes in Portugal (Europe is a favourite of Kanoa’s), as well as a house in his hometown of Huntington Beach.
Don’t be surprised to see Kanoa atop our pecuniary podium by the time the Olympics hit.
Sponsors: Quiksilver, Red Bull, Oakley, Audi, Sharp Eye, Visa, Kinoshita Group and Dior.
Prizemoney: $174,600 (CT) + $83,350 (QS)
6 – Kolohe Andino
The Californian is still the highest-earning US mainlander on the CT, but falling out of the top-10 in 2018 will prove costly in next year’s Rich List. While Kolohe’s $1.2m contract with Hurley remains for 2018, it stipulates the following year be cut in half since he slipped into 11th place this year – one spot outside what his contract requires.
A round two loss to Pupo might not seem like such a big deal, but in Kolohe’s case, his 5.00 heat total and loss to Miguel at Pipeline cost him $600,000. Although we can think of a handful of heats where the term ‘robbed’ springs to mind in terms of Kolohe’s received scores throughout the year – Julian v Kolohe at Uluwatu anyone?
If Kolohe wants to climb back up to his $1.2 million contract in 2019 he’ll just have to surf his way back into the top 10 next season.
The past few years have seen Kolohe lose deals with Target and SkullCandy, but Hurley’s salary combined with other endorsements from Red Bull (with sticker rights still on the nose in front of Hurley), FCS, Mayhem, and Oakley, kept Kolohe’s bank safely in the Rich List.
As we’ve said in the past, Kolohe pulled together some of the best timing in surfing, signing 10-year deals at the peak of the surf industry. Couple that with very clever advice to invest in real estate during the downturn – buying two houses and an apartment complex in San Clemente – Kolohe certainly won’t need to be opening a surf school post-surf career.
Sponsors: Hurley, Red Bull, FCS, Mayhem, Oakley
Prize Money: $160,200
5 – Filipe Toledo
2018 is the year Filipe almost became King. His strike rate and, dare we say, athleticism, is unrivalled in the realm of surf. His twitch reflexes and sheer ingenuity upon an open face make him one of the most exciting to watch and he’s tuning this skillset to translate to results when the canvas is throaty left-hand tubes.
Many were perplexed last year that a talent such as Filipe could sit so far down the Rich List. What’s even more interesting is that 2015 World Champ Adriano DeSouza failed to make the Rich List at all. But as we all know, sponsorship dollars don’t sit on a predetermined X/Y axis that directly correlates with results or performance. There are many socio-economic factors as well as Darlings with X Factor who yield the biggest pay cheques. But, none are more prevalent than the basic fundamental of economics: something is only worth what someone else is prepared to pay.
With a World Title likely and a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics almost a foregone conclusion, Filipe’s earning capacity is certain to grow. Not to mention his management is based in California and his deals being written in US dollars.
Which was fortunate this past year, as Filipe inked a bunch of new contracts in the enviable position of negotiating in the Jeep Yellow Jersey. While the bulk of his earnings come from Hurley, Oi, and Monster, a flurry of additional signings with brands such as GoPro, Sunbum, and previous contract renegotiations have upped Filipe’s earnings on the year prior. A $1.3m bump to be precise.
Add these earnings to two first places and a flurry of top fives and you have yourself the fifth highest earner of the season.
Sponsors: Hurley, Oi, Jeep, Sharp Eye, Stance, FCS, GoPro, Sunbum, Monster, Oakley
Prize Money: $388,000
4 – Julian Wilson
Julian Wilson is no longer surfing’s most eligible bachelor. This year he welcomed his first born child, Olivia, into the world with his lovely wife, Ashley Wilson (nee Osborne). As he subtly re-positioned himself as a family man, Julian also delivered the best Australian Title run we’ve witnessed since Mick Fanning in 2015. He started off the season with a broken-winged win on the Gold Coast, and followed the 11-stage race all the way down to the semi-finals at Pipe. All in all, Jules’ scored efforts this season earned him a combined $430,000.
This, however, isn’t where the bulk of Wilson’s fiscal stability comes from. While the surf industry at large is overexerted, Julian’s ongoing seven-figure deal was inherited by Hurley when Nike departed surf back at the end of 2012. Consider this with a flurry of large beverage and automobile deals (Mercedes and Red Bull), his name splayed on one of the most popular board models, the JS Air, plus a considerable yet shrinking deal with Oakley, and you have one well supported family.
Scarcity brings value. And it doesn’t get any scarcer than being the only title hope that your coast-centric country has. Expect to see him amongst the top five both competitively and financially for the next several years.
Sponsors: Hurley, Red Bull, Sunbum, Mercedes, Oakley, JS Surfboards, FCS
Prize Money: $430,000
3 – Mick Fanning
Despite retiring from the tour at Bells Beach in April, Mick still easily snuck into surfing’s baller list – the only non-competitive surfer to do so. His contracts in future years are sure to see some minor downgrades and revisions, but those who are close with Mick can attest to the fact that he is a worker. Mick’s reputation precedes him, and once he commits his name to something, his devotion to that concept or brand is unshakeable
Where most surf talent are slippery at best when it comes to the “work” part of the job, Mick is in a league of his own.
Unlike tour veterans Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson, Mick’s contracts won’t fall away much now that he doesn’t have a spot on the World Tour. Thankfully for Mick, his retirement contract with the Curl revolves primarily around surfing unknown and uncrowded locations with Mason Ho and whoever else rolls by.
On the financial side, it’s rumoured Mick won’t consider signing a new deal for under $250k. Unless of course he’s taking a hefty stake in your presumably-profitable enterprise, or more importantly, there’s a ‘giving back’ aspect to your endeavor.
Many outside of our humble surf sphere might recall him as the guy who punched a shark. And while that incident may have sparked widespread public interest, it’s hard to discount Mick’s relevance and iconic status. Striking sizeable deals with brands like Mercedes and Red Bull is just one of the indirect effects that Mick’s irrevocable appeal has garnered.
Aside from direct cash injections, Mick also has his hand in an array of surfing and offshoot projects. In 2017 he launched Mick Fanning surfboards, which are an ubiquitous softboard phenom around Australian coastal cities. He also joined on as an ambassador for global board purveyors, Awayco. Add these to shares in Creatures of Leisure, his ever-growing beer company, Balter, investing in the tech camera start-up, Opkix, plus a $100k keynote address fee and you’ve got one busy ‘retired’ surfer. The same kind of work ethic blew our minds in August this year when he travelled to three continents to find a “fair winner” for Stab In The Dark (premiering in Jan, btw).
Rumour has it Mick, Parko, Kerrzy, and Bede were recently offered a significant sum for the ownership of Balter, but they passed it off given the significant growth the brand has been having.
Mick’s days as a top tier competitive surfer may have ceased, but his days as one of the most pertinent and recognisable faces in Australian culture and global surfing have not. Expect to see him sticking around in this list until he’s well into his 40s.
Sponsors: Rip Curl, DHD, Creatures, Balter, Red Bull, Reef, Mercedes, Skull Candy, MF Softboards, FCS, Awayco
Prize Money: $69,700
2 – Gabriel Medina
Gabriel Medina’s performance at Pipeline this year warmed even the coldest surf core hearts. It will stand as an unforgettable moment in surfing history, bookmarking his second World-Title-winning season in 2018.
Gabriel might not release web clips and films which garner clicks, replays, and subsequent metrics – he’s never released a proper clip or even online edit – but if you compiled his best scored waves from this year you’d be watching an edit of the year nominee nonetheless.
As a result of his competitive supremacy, Gabriel is a legitimate celebrity in Brazil. Beside the likes of Neymar and Moretti, Medina is a household name throughout his home nation and is only continuing to grow as he asserts his comp surfing stronghold. And while 6.7 million Instagram followers might be undersized in the grander scheme of social media statistics, it dwarfs John Florence and Kelly Slater who have a combined 3.5 million.
This celebrity and social media status however doesn’t translate to double the income. The vast majority of Gabriel Medina’s Instagram followers are Brazilian – reportedly as high as 90% – and with the Brazilian currency enduring a steady decline over the past five years ($0.64 in 2011 to $0.26 today), combined with economic turmoil, and a new, heavily conservative government, these startling numbers don’t go as far as one might expect.
His Rip Curl contract, signed until 2021, is half of John’s Hurley deal, but what he misses in nose real estate cash he reconciles with a non-endemic kick. Brazilian telecommunication company Oi throws him a few clicks short of a million, Audi scrapes into the six figure region, and soft drink brand, Guarana, around 400k. Gabriel also added the likes of Corona and Orthopride to his supporter base in 2018, but he lost FCS, Oakley, and his once infamous sponsor, Gillette.
What bumped Medina a little further this year was the $473,200 he earned in prize money. Combined with the added dollars that are earned with a couple bonus stickers, Medina netted a few bundles under $4 million, a number which will increase next year when the $1 million title cherry is placed on top.
On a side note, Medina is the only male surfer on the list not repping the double striped wetsuit or a pair of taurine bulls.
He may have been 2018’s number one surfer, but he’ll have to remain surfing’s penultimate fiscal playboy for the time being.
Sponsors: Rip Curl, Oi, Coppertone, Cabianca, Guarana, Audi, Orthopride, Corona.
Prize Money: $473,200
1 – John John Florence
When Nike eyes a prize they operate with laser-like precision. The same way they sealed Nyjah Huston in skateboarding, Nike (well, Hurley) wanted JJF and JJF only. They secured him easily, and from all reports were in a bidding war against themselves.
What resulted is the biggest ever signed contract in surfing. Even with the supposed surfing explosion caused by the impending Olympic berth, this contract won’t be eclipsed for a long, long time.
The two-time World Champ was out most of 2018 with injury. As such, he’s been relatively quiet. Most contracts have penalties that apply if an athlete is out with an injury, because he or she can’t endorse a brand as contracted. Rumours abound that John’s contract is no different, but in this recent case, Hurley have honored his full entitlement as if he were unencumbered.
As an aside, the first five events netted him just under $60,000 while he pocketed $322,500 on the way to his second title in 2017.
Locked into an eight year deal, John’s $30m+ contract expires on December 31, 2024. While he might not have been the ‘best competitive surfer’ in the world for 2018, he remained the best paid, and many have argued that his edit ‘Space’ was the single best surf performance on 2018.
His additional sponsors – Nixon, Futures, Pyzel, with Yeti and Electric boarding the ship this year – are small in contrast to his contract with Hurley, but still contribute nearly half a million to his seasonal earnings.
His signing with eyewear brand Electric was mostly an equity deal (meaning he sacrifices some salary for ownership in the company) whereas Yeti was a standard signing. The Yeti deal flew under the radar for what is a notable unison between the world’s highest paid surfer and the cooler company currently monopolising the market.
In addition, John also shifted his non-endemic deals to the Creative Artists Agency. An agency which manages Hollywood talent such as Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, and sports stars like Nyjah Huston. Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Stephanie Gilmore connect with the mainstream and while John is the darling of the ‘core world’, it will be interesting to see if he’ll rep a scent or if there’s any desire from, say, a big-named watch brand to have John as an ambassador.
Another boost for his 2018 Rich List campaign was the World Title bonus from the year prior.
While the going rate for a title bonus is typically a million dollars, when you’re the highest paid surfer in the world it’s expected you’ll be winning multiple world titles anyway. Therefore John pockets $500k for his competitive excellence in 2017.
John is a man who knows what he wants, and is prepared to pay for it. He had to outbid the WSL for one of their best commentators, Ross Williams, to be his coach. This move wasn’t cheap, but it’s one that got him the unicorn: back-to-back World Titles.
And while these investments in himself are clearly paying dividends, John’s monthly wage bill would be astronomical to keep his 16-person Johntourage alive – chef, coach, physical therapist, public relations, spiritual guidance included – not to mention the upkeep costs of his 48-foot, multi-million dollar yacht, Falcor.
Whether John returns to his former competitive stride or not, expect to see him at pinnacle of this list for years to come.
Sponsors: Hurley, Stance, Futures, Nixon, Dakine, Pyzel, Electric, and Yeti.
World Title Bonus: $500,000
Prize Money: $59,200
Kelly Slater – A complex omission
As per usual, precise figures surrounding Kelly’s capital are difficult to obtain. Not that the 11x Champ is completely out of reach, but more that his business ventures are complex investments rather than simple name and cash exchanges. His eco-clothing brand Outerknown continues to roll along, he has his hand in the WSL via his very own wave ranch, ambassador for the health-goop company that is The Chia Co., Slater Designs surfboards via his majority acquisition of Firewire, and rumour has it his energy drink, Purps, will be resurrected in 2019.
In some circumstances, however, his deals are simple. In 2018 Kelly shook hands with the lux wrist watch brand, Brietling, which we predict would be significantly more than a $250k exchange. He also came on board as an ambassador for Michelob Ultra, the WSL’s official beverage sponsor; as someone’s who publicly and financially invested in health and ‘superfood’ products it’s a strange sight to see him supporting a beer, so it’s safe to assume a significant deal would’ve been struck.
We can’t put a definitive figure on Kelly’s worth, but it’s unlikely he’d find himself outside the mix if his complex investments and endorsements were all adequately calculated. If push came to liquidation, no number of simple stickered endorsements would triumph Kelly’s entrepreneurial nature.
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