I recently photographed amateur and professional female surfers at the Supergirl Pro in Oceanside, California. While I watched those women surf for three days, one topic seemed to find its way into conversation after conversation around the event: a lack of sponsorship for female surfers. The costs of competing and traveling all over the world can skyrocket pretty quick for an aspiring professional surfer and finding the sponsors that can make it all possible is extremely difficult.
This eye-opening realization led me to do my own research about how female surfers, in particular, find and acquire sponsorships. I also leveraged my own experiences having worked for a major sportswear company that sponsored athletes. If you are a young woman who is serious about becoming a professional surfer, here are some tips for acquiring a sponsorship.
1. Compete and Do It Well
First and foremost, you need to be good enough at surfing to enter and win contests. Hiring a surf coach is one of the best ways to elevate you to the next level in your surfing. Most of the top women surfers have coaches and trainers. Focus on staying fit and healthy by eating well and cross-training to improve your strength and techniques for surfing.
2. Get Social
If you’re serious about becoming a competitive surfer you’ll need to start promoting yourself across various digital platforms. This includes everything from building a promotional/personal website to being active in building your social media followings across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is where you’ll brand yourself as an athlete (and person) through images, videos, and content that shares who you are. These media accounts should be your professional athlete accounts (different from your personal accounts). The content and images you post need to profile you as a great role model, a top-level surfer, and an influencer with a pool of fans and followers a prospective sponsor can connect to. The importance of your public image cannot be emphasized enough. Trust me, sponsors will be checking out your digital presence, so make sure these accounts show you in the best possible light.
Your personal website should include a biography, details about your training, coaching, career highlights, quality images that show your surfing ability and personality, a collection of any press you’ve received as an athlete and public figure, links to all your social media channels, and a contact page.
3. Create a Photo Collection
A picture is worth a thousand words to a sponsor. Have a collection of the best images of you surfing, competing, and interacting and with your fans. At most surf contests, you’ll find a number of photographers shooting photos as a hobby. Approach them and give them your contact information should they get any good photos of you. Find out if they charge for a photo or just require photo credits. And if you source some of your images from the internet, do not use them without permission from the photographer.
4. Be Conscious of Your Appearance and Behavior at Contests
If you’re serious about being an athlete, remember that sex is not what you’re selling. You’re promoting your talents and professionalism. Wear appropriate athletic apparel. You need to create an image/brand that sponsors are willing to invest in. If you want to be taken seriously as a top female surfer, act like one. After taking a small poll of female teenage surf fans, I found they prefer not to see females competing in thong bikinis.
5. Know Your Local Sponsorship Opportunities
“If you surf, they will come” isn’t the most effective approach to finding a sponsorship these days. Many of the biggest surf brands today are struggling financially. This means hoping to land a major sponsor can be like hoping to win the lottery, and it should motivate you to think outside the box.
-START SMALL AND/OR LOCAL:
If you are winning contests and making a name for yourself in your hometown, you can approach businesses in your area. Everyone loves to support local standout athletes. This includes:
a. Local companies that specialize in your sport, like surf shops, surf equipment manufacturers, etc.
b. Local businesses that sell services or accessories a surfer might use, like sunscreen, gyms, health food companies or stores, automotive dealerships, restaurants, travel agencies, etc.
c. General athletic companies like yoga, running, swimming, etc.
d. Companies that you like, even if they are not sports related. This can include pet stores, sunglass store, beauty products, chamber of commerce, etc. (Remember GoDaddy’s sponsorship with female NASCAR driver Danica Patrick?)
e. Your circle of family and friends may have contacts at companies looking to help out athletes like you.
f. Sports clubs and organizations.
Use a spreadsheet to create your sponsor lists. Include their website address, emails, physical locations, phone number, and their social media accounts. Once you start contacting them be sure to note the date and what information you sent or shared with them.
6. Research Your Potential Sponsors
This is a very important step. Go to every potential sponsor’s website and read about them. Understand their mission, their vision, their team, and understand how you fit in and what you offer.
Things to know include:
a. Where are they located?
b. What is special about this company; how does it stand out from its competitors?
c. Who is their target market?
d. What type of athletes do they sponsor?
e. Do you believe in their product or service?
f. What is their mission statement and can you help them with accomplishing what they wish to?
g. Ask yourself why they should sponsor you. Know what you are going to say.
h. Are they looking for product testing athletes?
7. Make Contact
After you have researched brands and companies that you are targeting for your sponsorship, and you have a good idea how you are able to give back to them, it is time to reach out. Remember, you need to tell them what you can do for them by sponsoring you.
8. Promote Your Sponsors
Now that you have the sponsors, you need to promote them. Remember this is a working partnership between you and your sponsors. The more you make them look good, the more likely other sponsors will be knocking on your door.
Have faith in yourself as a person and in your talents. Keep persevering and follow your dreams of becoming a professional surfer. And don’t be afraid to ask for a sponsorship. You won’t get sponsors unless you ask.