For most people, surfing and working are like oil and water – no matter how hard you try, they simply don`t mix. A lucky few are, however, able to find a way to make a living from their favourite activity, either directly or by taking a job that gives them plenty of opportunities to catch the waves.
The ultimate goal of many surfers is to turn professional, but only those with truly exceptional skills can hope to make a living in this way. The overall winner of a major surfing tournament can earn as much as £75,000 in prize money but for most professionals, this represents only a small proportion of their total income.
World number one Joel Parkinson earned just £50,000 in prize money in the first half of 2012, but has a sponsorship deal with a sportswear manufacturer worth more than £1 million over five years. In addition, the biggest names in the business make money by helping to design `signature` equipment, clothing and accessories.
Major sponsorship deals are almost always contingent on a surfer maintaining a certain ranking. If you lose form and make fewer appearances on the winners` rostrum, you can expect your sponsorship earnings to evaporate away.
You don`t have to be a huge name in order to attract sponsorship: any surfer who is regularly placing in local or regional competitions should be able to obtain some level of interest, especially if they have had coverage of their achievements in the press. Low-level sponsorship may not make you rich but it will help to offset the cost of travelling to and entering competitions – both of which might otherwise be a sizeable barrier to making any progress.
If you`re not one of the elite with the ability to make it as a professional, there are several alternative careers to consider, though all of them are far less lucrative. Many ex-professionals end up working as surfing instructors and although this can be fun, it can also be frustrating as you`ll miss many good waves while doing your job.
If you have a flair for journalism or photography, working for a surfing magazine or website could give you the opportunity to try out new boards and other pieces of equipment, as well as travelling around the world to report on competitions. You may not get to surf every day, but you will be able to rub shoulders with some of the top names in the business.
For some, working in a surf shop or for a board maker is simply a way to earn some extra cash – and get discounts on equipment – while working out what to do for a living, but you can also pursue a career in this field. Several universities – most notably in England, Australia and America – now offer degree courses in subjects such as Surf Science and Technology or Surfing Studies.
These courses can help prepare you for jobs in surfing enterprise management, design and manufacture of specialist equipment or clothing or careers helping maintain the environment for the benefit of surfers. Studying these courses will provide you with a wealth of opportunities to indulge in your favourite sport, both during and for many years after.