WHEN THE RIDE ENDS

IS PRO SURFING A DEAD-END CAREER? 

BY KYLE THIERMANN

PUBLICATION: SANTA CRUZ WAVES

Most of my friends are, or once were, professional surfers. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz and, given that I am a part of this tight-knit community, it’s highly uncomfortable and difficult for me to write about the harsh realities that I see some of these surfers facing today. That being said, I will continue on as honestly as possible—because pro surfing isn’t always the glamorous career it can seem.

The definition of “pro surfer” will vary depending on whom you ask. Some people will tell you that Nat Young is the only pro surfer in Santa Cruz because he is the only one who competes on the World Surf League (WSL) tour.

To gain clarity on the definition, I ride my bike to Pete Mel’s surf shop, Freeline. Mel won the Mavericks competition in 2013 and is one of the most celebrated surfers to ever come out of Santa Cruz. “A pro surfer is someone who gets paid to create value for a brand by surfing and getting media attention,” he tells me.

Right now, I am one of the few surfers in Santa Cruz who still enjoys a small salary from my main sponsor, Patagonia. If my friends were to be brutally honest, they would tell me that dozens of unsponsored guys in town surf circles around me. They would tell me that I have never been paid for my surfing, and that, in reality, I get paid to create video content that aligns with my sponsor’s brand. Thankfully, my friends are too polite to tell me any of this, so I’ll go on introducing myself as a pro surfer, although it is unclear sometimes why I really get paid. (READ MORE)