Surfing isn’t always the best career option, despite a surfer’s talent. As the industry struggles, longtime riders for certain brands can suddenly find themselves sponsorless in the blink of an eye. For a person who’s spent years honing their craft and putting their lives at risk—especially those with families to think about—the sudden departure of a sponsor can be a jarring experience. As Kyle Theirmann put it in a recent article, “The moment the athlete is no longer seen as someone who moves product, they will no longer be paid to surf.”
Such is the case for Ryan Hipwood, better known as Hippo. The video you see above, produced by Dan Norkunas and Hippo himself, was a year in the making and was shot on almost no budget. It covers the highs and lows and dedication it takes to surf big waves while raising a family—no easy task, even for the best of them.
“This release comes at a difficult time for me,” Hippo wrote in an email, “considering I have just got a shot on the BWWT and feel at the top of my game as far as surfing big waves goes. My Monster contract has come to an end.”
This, of course, means a lot of changes for Hippo. “This means my surfing and travel will drastically stand still until such time as that sponsorship is filled again,” he went on. “As I’m sure as many of you are aware, the surfing industry is a hard market at the moment and not having another sponsor to roll onto has not come from lack of trying.”
It’s a strange thing, surfing for a living. As another example of one of the best surfers in the world losing a sponsor and having to forge a new path, take Laurie Towner and Keala Kennelly. Both are without major sponsors, but are widely regarded, much as Hippo is, as some of the best in waves of consequence. Sponsors, depending on a litany of criteria, are often in the difficult position of running a successful business and treating their surfers well—two propositions which are often at odds with each other.
For Hippo’s part, though, he’s not giving up, and he’s not giving up for a very good reason. “I want to inspire my family to do what they love,” he says, “and leading by example is probably the best thing that I could pass onto my kid.”