The Price Of Being A B/C Grade Pro Surfer
Self professed “second-tier surfer,” Dylan Goodale, explains the economics and how to make the best out of an expiring career.
While surfing’s one percent get rich off non-endemic deals, the B-list bourgeoisie continues to fade.
The gilded years of surf industry, fuck yeah!, AKA the early noughties, are closing in on two decades past. Money isn’t flowing the way it once was and that trickles down to B/C grade pro surfers, who are the first to be let go.
“One crazy thing I think about is, if you were in the generation before me, and you were a B-grade pro surfer, you were saving to buy a house,” 27-year-old, and self-professed second tier Pro Surfer, Dylan Goodale tells Stab. “If I were able to do the same thing ten years ago, I’d be chilling.”
“But when my generation came,” he continues, “it was a time in the industry where companies were throwing big money at the Jordys, Julians, Danes and John Johns. The gap between the stars and [surfing’s] middle class started to widen. The middle class had to really work to get sponsors, and now it’s rare the B/C grade pros even have a sponsor.”
If you look at who’d be considered surfing’s one percent, you’ll see big contracts from surf brands and brands on the cusp of the “sport”. Some guys and gals at the caliber of Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore etc, wouldn’t even consider any deal, with any brand, for anything south of $200k.
At some point, all those stickers will stop paying Mr. Goodale's bills.
Kelly and Steph are signing deals with brands such as Breitling, a luxury watch company, whose product retails from $4k to upwards of $50k, the upper end equivalent to what most B grade surfers bring in as their yearly salary.
“As far as pay goes, you make enough to make due if you are smart with it. Or enough to max out credit cards that you may pay off five years later and have the best time ever,” says Dylan. “Depending on where you live, maybe you can save money for a house or something. But where I’ve lived [Kauai and Los Angeles], only like John John can buy a house,” he laughs.
And you may pause and think, shit, all they’re doing is surfing. Which is partly true. Today, to be a “professional surfer”, you have to surf, obviously. But you also have to have a solid social following, and an engaged one. You have to demonstrate your value—constantly produce content, tag your sponsors, and do your best to integrate them into your social persona in an organic fashion.
Some riders are tasked with a quota of social posts inked into their contracts. Look at Rockstar’s team: every month, their riders post a Rockstar plug, drink in hand, with a caption that says something like, “Fueling up with Rockstar Energy” (Meanwhile, in today’s health conscious society, rarely do team riders actually drink the taurine. In fact, it’s not uncommon for energy drink riders to receive cases of aluminum cans filled with water.)
“As for someone hitting you up and asking you to post a photo, I’ve never had to do that,” quips Dyl. “But I understand why it happens and its importance to a brand. Brands today can basically multi-person advertise on Instagram. It’s like having a billboard that spans across multiple accounts and utilizing people’s followings. Which is genius in a way but also really frustrating when you’re trying to keep your whole set up organic and cool. Which no one can really claim that theirs is nowadays, because of that.”
“It’s proved so effective that now you can not even know how to surf, but have X amount of followers and to brands that makes you the man,” Dylan laughs. “Which is fucking lame, if you ask me.”
Per month, as a second tier surfer, you’re pulling anywhere between 3k-10k. This depends on contest results, sponsor deals and extracurriculars. For the higher, six-figure a year situations, that money mostly comes from non-endemic promotion, usually done through Instagram. Someone like Tia Blanco, a QS competitor and model boasting a 291k IG following, has been rumored to be offered up to 6k a post.
“At the height of my career, base salary was about 50-60k. Then I had a couple good years on the QS and a few Bud Light contests that I did well in, so those were a bit better for me financially. I wasn’t making $100k a year or anything… but I definitely lived like I was,” Dylan laughs.
Six figures is the anomaly for B and C-grade pro surfers; most earn toward the lower end of the spectrum. The amount you make, like in any profession, depends on how much you’re willing to work and, a lot of times, on sponsor deals with small stickers that sit in between the nether regions of said surfer’s thruster set up.
“If you’re proactive on getting little sponsors, those little sponsors add up,” says Dylan. A small contract can range anywhere from $100-500USD a month.
“Then if you’re smart, you support them and do stuff for them so they keep you on.” says Goodale. “You have to work it. You have to make connections and get the most out it. Being a pro surfer is a job, you have to be personable, you have to meet the right people, you have to make friends with the photographers and surf media. It's such a small community; if you surf good but you're not all those things, then no one gives a fuck.”
"I was told, if i wanted to succeed in any shape or form as a pro surfer, to never say no to a trip." - Dylan Goodale
Knowing where you stand and being realistic with yourself plays a major role in how long one can get paid to surf. In surfing, there’s a lot of ego, and a lot of irrational expectations and inflated sense of self worth. Recently, we’ve heard a story of a 40-plus-year-old YouTube surfboard reviewer demanding $50k a year in sponsorship money, from one big brand. The demand was scoffed at, but you get the picture.
“If you’re going to all the QS events, but aren’t of the calibre to make the tour, that’s a waste of being a pro surfer,” says Dylan. “If that’s the case, it’s better to use that your opportunity to get on trips and travel and do cool shit. You have to be realistic; once you start making demands it’s time to rethink. When you’re a B or C grade pro surfer, you’re not making demands.”