“My Sponsor Dropped Me, I’m Banging Nails And Paul Fisher’s Marrying My Sister.”
The cautionary tale of Cooper Chapman.
Getting old sucks. You don’t get to surf all day. Nobody wants to sponsor you. You have to get a job. Your sister gets engaged to Paul Fisher. Life goes on.
But Cooper Chapman is adapting. After a stellar junior career, the 24-year-old from North Narrabeen has taken a job working construction while juggling world tour dreams. Parting ways with his sponsor, Hurley, awhile back, this year he intends to self-fund his QS campaign—and hopefully qualify. Finishing last year ranked 57th on the QS, he’s granted himself one year to give chase.
“I’m giving myself this year as my full, good year to have a crack at it. I think this year’s going to be a big one for me,” Chapman explained when Stab caught him during a lunch break at the job site.
“It’s a bit of a grind at the moment. Last year taught me a few things,” he admits. “It’s extremely difficult having to make $40,000 or $50,000 without having full-time employment. It’s not easy to find somebody that’s going to let you take four months of the year off to do the events.”
Chapman says when it came to finding work he got lucky. He linked up with a local builder who surfs, understands his situation, and has brought him on to help when he’s in town but gives him the latitude to chase points.
“I’ve been working there six days a week, 7:00 til 5:00, trying to grind as much money as I can,” Chapman said. “Then I’m still trying to surf every day, work on my equipment, it’s just kinda tricky. But I’m still enjoying it. It’s a good way to live.”
Looking to bank as much cash as he can, Chapman will skip Brazil and start his competitive year off by focusing on the series of QS that land in Oz next month.
“It didn’t make much sense to go to Brazil and start off the year financially backwards, so I’m just staying at home and working, then in the middle of February there are some events that are all within 90 minutes of my house. It’ll be nice to start the year close to home and not be too expensive. That saves some money to get ready for the big year ahead,” continued Chapman.
Spending most of his time learning how to build houses, when asked if he thought he’d be prepared physically and mentally to compete at an elite level after banging all those nails. Chapman was optimistic.
“I’m definitely not surfing four or five hours a day like I used to when I had a sponsor, but I’m just trying to adapt and make it work. My goals are definitely not out of reach. I think I’ve sort of worked out the formula, now it’s just getting a few things to fall my way,” told Chapman. “Two years ago, when I’d lose heats, I’d freak out that I’d disappoint my sponsors and they would be unhappy. Now that I don’t have any of that pressure and I’m doing it for myself I can motivate to find some enjoyment out of it. Doing a comp is way better than going to work.”
“If I do well, that’s great, but if I don’t, I’ve got a job and I’ve set myself up with something that I can do for the rest of my life. I’m happy with where I’m at work-wise, but surfing’s the dream and the goal. I’m enjoying learning new skills, but it’s definitely made me think, ‘Damn, I had it pretty good.’ It’s time to get out there and make those close heats that haven’t fallen my way in the past when I’ve needed them too. I feel like I have that attitude now.”
In the last few years, Australian and American surfers have largely been brushed aside by the continuing rise of the Brazilian storm. The Aussies and Americans have been accused of being soft, of having too much too soon, to not having the hunger to make it on the gritty QS scene. It’s a fair criticism. The Brazilians bring the passion and fire every time they pull on a jersey. For most of them, success in surfing potentially means success in life.
“We’ve all seen what the Brazilian guys have been doing over the last couple of years, and for me, it’s super inspiring. I’m friends with a lot of them. Some of them get bad names in the media, but they’re just hungry as all hell and just love surfing and love competing,” Chapman says when pressed. “I’ve had that from a young age as well. I’m nothing but grateful for the sponsors and opportunities I had during my junior career, but now it’s up to me to really focus on being aggressive when I compete and leave it all in the water.”
And while he’s eagerly knocking on doors looking for sponsor opportunities. Chapman sees the writing on the wall. The landscape for professional surfers has changed. As marketing budgets and priorities have shifted, the days of the local pro aren’t what they once were. Stickers and bags of dough aren’t passed around as liberally as they once were.
“There used to be enough money for surfing to support QS and regional guys, but now, unless you’re under 22 and a junior phenom or a top ten surfer, I mean, there’s guys on tour right now that don’t have high paying sponsors,” says Chapman. “To me, that’s crazy. You can be one of the top 32 surfers in the world in a sport that’s evolving and growing so quickly, yet the money seems to be going backwards.”
“It’s just funny. The sport’s growing and all the industry seems to be declining somehow. Someone’s doing something wrong. I can’t work it out. It’d be nice to find someone that can find value in a top regional surfer. It’s easy to say, why don’t they sponsor five QS surfers for $20,000 grand and take $100,000 off a $4.5 million contract of someone else. In my eyes, having five regional guys getting seen all around their area has to have some sort of impact versus one guy that’s in one spot. Obviously, the marketing and global campaigns are one thing, but in my eyes, there’s still value in a talented person in their area.”
And about his sister’s impending nuptials to pro surfer turned Grammy nominated purveyor of beats, Paul Fisher. His name doesn’t come up until the end of the conversation.
“I thought that’s all you were going to ask me about,” he laughs. “A lot of the surf media just wants to talk to me because of Fish. Paul Fisher’s marrying my sister. He’s probably one of the most successful surfers of this time. In a couple of years, he’ll be making more money than John (Florence). It’s blowing up for him now. It’s clicked and he’s happy. He still rips. He was just saying, ‘I don’t miss the everyday grind of surfing. When the waves are fun, I go surf, but I don’t have to stress about it anymore.’ And shit, he still surfs really good. He can do whatever the fuck he wants now.”
Chapman laughs about Fisher. They’re going to be brothers soon. He’s genuinely stoked for everything that he’s created and happy that his sister’s so happy.
Chapman likes his chances on the QS this year, but the veil on pro surfing has been pulled back. He knows full well the ride won’t last forever.
“After 30, apart from Dion Agius and a couple other guys that have created their own companies, who does pro surfing really work out for? I don’t know.”
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