Will Work for Surf

Friday, 12 July 2013

Words: Casey Butler

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Glenn "Micro" Hall travels the world surfing the World Tour but it all comes at a cost.

There are roughly 20 million surfers in this world and a tiny fraction of us will ever see sponsorship. Many of those who do still don’t get enough monetary support to live the life most people imagine: Sleep in, feast on macadamia and banana pancakes, surf for hours on end, drink Mai Tais, maintain abs of steel, surf again, jet to Tahiti/Fiji/Japan/New York, bed models, surf some more… In truth, most athletes’ incomes are probably inconsistent at best. If they’re not winning comps, they’re not making bank, and if their sponsorship suddenly vanishes, well, what’s that expression--“SOL?” As we’ve previously explored, professional surfing can be a difficult way to pay the rent, and you may be surprised to learn that a fair number of the tribe “living the dream” actually hold down multiple jobs. Surfing Life asked five surfers to tell us about their day jobs and how they manage their time.

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And they say only women can multitask! Photo: Andrew Shield

The Multitasker

Dean Bowen has a slew of accolades to his name: Not only has the 21-year-old Gerroa local conquered Shipsterns and code-red Chopes, he’s been a standout on the ASP Juniors and QS circuits for years. He recently parted ways with his main sponsor after seven years on salary, and he calls the experience “eye opening.” In addition to taming beastly slabs, he now works as a lifeguard, surf coach, and labourer with his brother. “No one who surfs wants to lock into a full-time gig because they know what they could miss out on,” he says, “[but] it’s always fun lifeguarding. One of the other lifeguards is so excited about surfing, it’s crazy. He asks, on average, 1,000 questions during every eight-hour shift. I’m still on salary with my other sponsors and I’m keen to keep chasing swells. I love what I do, and it’s an exciting time for guys who are riding big waves. There’s a lot happening!”

The Stalwart

In her ninth year on the ASP Women’s World Tour, Bec Woods currently ranks as 15th. In the world. While the 28-year-old has the support of small-but-mighty companies like Bounce Foods and Grown Eyewear, she lacks a principal sponsor--and the hefty paychecks that often come with one. Life on Tour is pricey, so to make ends meet, Woodsy picks up shifts as a lifesaver in her native Copacabana, NSW and has signed on to teach a week-long surf clinic in Fiji this October. “Basically, I get paid as a surf guide and per-day coach on that trip,” she says, “which is a double positive for both myself and clients, [who wish] to better their surfing in a safe and encouraging environment through The Perfect Wave surf travel company.” “As a WT surfer who travels a lot, employers don't tend to be too impressed with you telling them when you are available,” she continues. “Lifeguarding locally has been awesome because they are an active crew who are super supportive of everyone's individual goals outside of the job. You also need to be in peak fitness for the job, so it keeps you on your toes.”

The Instructor

WCT surfer Glenn “Micro” Hall also makes some extra cash by imparting his considerable knowledge (more than a decade’s worth of experience with competitive surfing) to eager up-and-comers. Like Wilko, way back when. Micro Surfing Academy (MSA) offers camps, clinics, and specialised instruction in high-performance surfing and heat strategy. “Balancing coaching with traveling and competing can be hard, because I feel bad coming and going from the kids so often,” Hall says. “It’s hard not giving them set structure. But the positive is [that] they can watch online or on TV and see that I'm doing what I teach them. I do my best to stay in touch with them when I'm away and follow their progress.” Micro says that analysing others’ techniques helps improve his own, and that the added income is useful, but he really just coaches because he loves it. “The small amount of money I make from coaching does help me to get to the events, but it’s not my main income or anything,” he explains. “It is a business, so I do need to make money, but I’m just lucky that it’s something I love doing anyway. The money isn't the sole reason why I do it.”

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Need some motivation? Look no further. Photo: Andrew Shield

The Motivator

When Mark Mathews was a kid, he was afraid of big waves. By “big,” we mean larger than average in Maroubra, where he grew up. Today, the guy charges big waves. And by “big,” we mean the biggest. Waves capable of swallowing buildings whole. He knows all about overcoming fear to accomplish great feats, and he’s happy to share what he knows: When he’s not chasing massive swells, the 30-year-old works as a motivational speaker and corporate trainer. People generally get into that line of work for the inspiration, not the cash, and accordingly, O’Neill looks after Mathews well enough that any income he gains from speaking is just a bonus. He does, however, see motivational speaking as a career that will carry over, should there come a day when surfing no longer suffices financially. “Public speaking on any level has always been a huge fear of mine, so I looked at it as a challenge,” he explains. “I got into it through a friend of a friend, who ran a corporate training company called Peak Teams. We developed an adventure training simulation based on big-wave surfing. Believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels between [becoming] a successful big-wave surfer and succeeding in the corporate world. It’s really tough to schedule corporate speaking jobs [as a big-wave surfer], because companies need confirmation well in advance, whereas in big-wave surfing, you live week by week, based on the weather maps. I have missed some good swells in the past because I have committed to a speaking job. I try and book them all between the southern and northern hemisphere winters, to try and limit the amount of swells I miss.”

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The Point-of-View Guru

Lennox Head’s Anthony Walsh is another notable big-wave surfer whose unique skills in the water have landed him supplemental work. Walsh is not just a GoPro-sponsored surfer; he’s the guy to ask about all of the moving parts. “I have been with GoPro from the beginning, and they are really loyal to people to who have been there from word go,” he explains, “but [they] also know my expertise in the area of POV (point-of-view), as I was doing it before GoPro came along. They send me on trips not just as an athlete, but to help other athletes and the rest of the photography team. As of right now, I am off the books as far as testing and stuff goes, but shortly, I should be an employee, as well as an athlete, of GoPro. IT helps me to support my family more and bring them traveling with me. I can't thank them enough.”

The WCT Retiree

Jessi Miley-Dyer used to loathe being seeded into the comps’ last heats because she’d get so amped up watching her fellow WCT competitors surf that she found it nearly impossible to sit and… wait. After five years on Tour, that eagerness quieted down and she knew she was ready to move on. When she didn’t re-qualify, then-ASP CEO Brodie Carr asked if she wanted to fill the position of Women’s Tour Manager, and she accepted the job and hasn’t looked back. “The transition was actually really easy,” the 27-year-old says. “I went to the first event of the year and didn't feel like I was missing out, I felt like I was exactly where I should have been.” Aside from the odd motivational speaking gig, JMD had never held a 9-5 before becoming Tour manager, and she’s loving the regular paychecks. “It's great,” she says. “My last two years on Tour, I really didn't make anything at all, and I had nothing in my account. It wasn't until I started getting a paycheck again that I realized how much easier it is when you actually have money in your account. I had gone from using prize money for everything and watching my account balance go down over a period of a few months to having more than five cents to my name at the end of the month. Having said that, it wasn't something that I was worried about at the time. I would always rather have had the opportunity to do the Tour with five cents and surf for a living than be a tennis player and get paid millions. Some things in life are priceless.”

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