So you want to get paid to surf.
You want the Jordy Smith life, huge salary, houses around the world, and a top 5 World ranking. Or perhaps you are more the Dave Rasta type, trekking unknown shores and getting paid to be mysterious and vegan. Heck maybe you just want to avoid that looming 9-5 desk job.
Becoming a pro surfer in 2020 is a whole lot different from my generation. In some ways, it’s a whole lot harder, and in others, it’s incredibly easy… the trick is finding the road that’s true to you.
‘Pro Surfer’ today can mean many things, and all of them are pretty cool. The old path of beating down the contest door and making your way to the championship tour is much, much harder than it has ever been, heck just trying to surf in the main events with points is nearly impossible without 2 or 3 years of grinding. The good news is SA carries a bunch of these smaller events now, so you don’t need to go far to start racking up a few points.
The surfing level required for this competitive path is truly mind-blowing, 3 to the beach don’t cut nothing these days, it’s full rotation airs into the flats, swinging on 10-foot chopes bombs and don’t forget your rail game, no power, no points. The top 34 these days can handle themselves most places, in fact, three championship tour surfers have won the Eddie! It says a lot about the all-rounded skill set required to be the best. If you’re a competitive mongrel, a rare breed, nothing will stand in your way, not even maxing chopes… ask Travis.
The formula to succeed for contest mongrel is simple. Win. Win. Win. It’s getting that formula right that is so damn hard.
But I’m jumping ahead, way ahead, there is another way, and the process is modern.
In the late ’90s Frankie and Byster were chosen for the search and the world’s first career as a “free surfer” began. They weren’t paid much, but they sparked a dream that most surfers on earth fantasize of nightly. Being paid to find and surf the best waves in the world. But the point is, they were chosen, 2 guys chosen by 1 very influential scout. A needle in a haystack finding a needle in a haystack.
Fast forward 25 years and the internet has changed everything, like many autocratic power bases of the old world, the power has shifted to the people and kids these days have the platforms to create their own destiny. I have a 10-year-old surf junkie and not a single morning breakfast in our house goes down without JOB vlog, and perhaps a Cooper Smith channel check-in. It’s the equivalent of Bunyip Dreaming in the ’80s and Kelly Slater Black n White in the ’90s, except you are both Munga Barry and Jack McCoy, and you can look into your cellphone and say “it’s the morning of the quarterfinals “ and load it up for your followers in seconds. Just look at Jackson Dorian… 11 years old, 151,000 followers on Instagram, a YouTube channel and every bit a full-time pro surfer. There may be pressure, but it’s hard to see it, between Waco trips, Indo, Maldives and the odd visit to the super ramp in Woodward , this kid is living the dream.
But hey, not everyone’s dad is Shane Dorian, so what’s the magic recipe? Some authentic personality, some sick clips and a bit of creativity… ? Actually, that’s not even true. Check out Kalani Robbs youtube channel Beefs TV, super raw, average footage filmed in below-average waves on soft tops around SoCal’s shore breaks, minimal editing and boom 50,000 subscribers. Ben Gravy 78,000 subscribers… average surfer riding novelty waves, tanker wakes, wind chops, backwash, throw in a pineapple logo and some fun music and let Google ads pay the bills.
As a former professional surfer and a father of a frothing grommet, I believe the biggest factor being a successful pro these days, is having fun. That’s what all these youtube guys have figured out, they capture the mindless joy that surfing will always be. If you’re having fun, it is infectious, and the rest will happen naturally. Rushing into world tour events too young not only burns big budgets, but it also burns passion out. Discover who you are, and be true to that, there are so many mediums to tell your story. Whilst surfing will never be a megalodon like golf, there is a growing global audience for this weird medium of existence and the opportunity to live your own version of the dream is very real.
Your best surfing will be done after 25… everything until then is subscriber building.
SA’s Top 6 Pro’s Instagram
Jordy smith – Full time pro tour and video part extrordinaire / 553,000 followers
Mikey Feb – former pro tour guy turned style guru / free surfer / 78,600 followers
Grant Baker – big wave world champ / explorer of very good waves / 67,400 followers
Beyric De vries – contest mongrel trying to crack the formula / 8,253 followers
Benj Brand – International Tube hunter / 22,700 followers
Brendon Gibbens – video part guy / 11,600 followers