When one thinks of a surfer, the stereotype of a fun loving and chilled out dude with tousled beach hair may come to mind. The lifestyle of a surfer is often (wrongly) associated with lower paying, lower commitment jobs and just living life on the waves. But in reality, surfing is a very accessible sport in which people from all walks of life participate. Surfing has become an art form, fascinating to watch as the surfer rides the waves with poise and preparation. It’s a place where the surfer becomes one with one of the most powerful elements in the world and where these two can co-exist in perfect harmony.
In the last few decades, too, professional surfing has become quite the lucrative career; it's now a $7 billion industry and surfboards have a market of $150 million with numbers continuing to rise. More people than ever are surfing, starting out younger, and athletes are emerging with extreme tenacity and talent. With all of these factors combined, the results include some very talented surfers winning huge money from prestigious competitions and landing lucrative sponsorship deals from major brands who want to associate their name with that of the glamorous surf stars.
Surfing has now become so big that it’s comparable to the world of professional sports like football and basketball. Along with sponsorships there are tours, there are fans, there is money to be won, and as long as the waves will continue to roll and crash the industry looks set to grow and develop. The bigger presence a surfer has on the competitive scene, the bigger paycheck they earn and the more likely they are to become a star. We've compiled a list of the ten richest surfers who make a living doing what they love; riding the waves. Popular surfing website, “Stab” recently released the earnings of these ten surfers in 2013 taking into account their contest earnings, endorsements, and sponsorship earnings.
10 Taj Burrow - $1.5 Million
Taj Burrow could have become a big hit back in 1997, but he declined his world tour qualification because he didn't think he was ready. What could have been seen as a big disaster actually ended up being a wise decision because in 1998, Taj earned himself the title of rookie of the year. Since this career boost, Taj has had sponsorships from VZ, Tweeds, FCS, Nanotune, Globe, and Billabong (which no longer sponsors him since re-negotiations fell through). While he may have experienced a pay cut from breaking ties with Billabong, he is still one of the highest earning surfers in the industry.
9 Steph Gilmore – $1.85 Million
With sponsorships from Roxy, DHD, Nikon, Sanitarium, and Creatures, Steph Gilmore has made strides for women in the world of surfing, proving to the masses that women can be just as competitive and successful as the men in this sport. At a young age, Gilmore won a world title that set her career into hyper drive and has yet to slow down. She has been rather wise with her sponsorships; she helped mould the Roxy brand after Quicksilver axed its female merchandise. She has also scored non surfing-related sponsorships, ensuring that she continues to receive a regular paycheck.
8 Jordy Smith - $2.1 Million
Jordy Smith has seen sponsorships from Red Bull, Oakley, Neff, Channel Islands, Vestal, O'Neill, and Neff. Smith was actually one of the first surfers to be offered a sponsorship from Nike and while the negotiations never came through, his business tactics actually set a precedent amongst surfers in the community who were beginning to see the attraction and desirability of sponsorship. Not only does Smith make the big bucks, but he also has a reputation of spending those big bucks on things like designer shoes, mansions, and major snowboarding trips. Smith’s net worth is at the highest it's ever been and he is well on his way to earning more as he dives into other business ventures.
7 Julian Wilson - $2.1 Million
Julian Wilson is sponsored by big names such as Oakley, Red Bull, Sol headphones, Hurley, and FCS. He earns about $1.8 million annually from his sponsorships and additionally over $275k from competition earnings. Even though he has sponsorships from numerous companies, he refuses to sign with a surfboard company, which might sound pretty weird for a surfer - but so far evading this area has worked well for him.
6 Kolohe Andino - $2.2 Million
His young, boyish looks make American Kolohe Andino a heartthrob among teenage girls and he has become one of the more popular surfers in the industry. Andino has become the face of Nike Surfing and he has the second-longest running endorsement deal among the world's surfers - a deal which is now in the hands of Hurley. Andino has landed several sponsorships from Skull Candy, Mayhem, FCS, Hurley, Red Bull, Oakley, Tweeds, and Target. Annually, it is estimated that he earns over $2 million as well as an additional $166k from his competition earnings, landing him in the number six spot on our list.
5 Mick Fanning - $2.9 Million
It seems that almost every company wants a piece of the pie that is the Australian surfer Mick Fanning. He's regarded as one of the fittest competitors in the World Tour and he is extremely driven when it comes to the building of his career. Fanning is sponsored by Red Bull, Reef, Rip Curl, Creatures, FCS, Ford, Dragon, Vetra, Skull Candy, and DHD. In fact, sponsors are constantly having to either raise their monetary bar to keep Fanning around or offering him large paychecks just to get him to sign onto their brand.
4 Joel Parkinson - $3 Million
Joel Parkinson is a prime example of how it pays off to work hard and win competitions in surfing. In 2012, he won the ASP World Title and he earned $1 million from Billabong, which certainly helped inflate his bank account. Parkinson has always found much support from Billabong that dates back to 2008 when he signed a five-year deal valued at $7.5 million, though it included Billabong making major decisions for the surfer. In addition to Billabong, Parkinson has sponsorships from JS, Kustom, and VZ.
3 Kelly Slater - $3.9 Million
Kelly Slater is regarded as one of the most famous and talented surfers of all time. With a career spanning over 23 years, Slater has become almost permanently associated with Quiksilver. Given that he's now over 40, Slater is sticking with his current sponsors; new companies bidding for Slater could dry up at anytime, as his surfing career is likely to be affected by his age. It may seem harsh, but sponsors do look for longevity in their potential athletes. Slater is also sponsored by GoPro, Chia seeds, Komunity project, and Channel Islands.
2 Dane Reynolds - $3.9 Million
Dane Reynolds has made proverbial waves in the surfing community because he's so very different to many of his contemporaries. He doesn’t use energy drinks, doesn’t work out at the gym, he doesn’t have a coach, and he doesn’t do any sort of training outside of surfing. Reynolds seems to be a reluctant and independent athlete, but he still boasts sponsorships from companies such as Channel Islands, Quiksilver, and Vans. Reynolds is a unique surfer in the industry who stands out because of his refusal to conform to any norm.
1 John John Florence - $5 Million
Hawaiian John John Florence holds the surfing world’s biggest contract and is sponsored by major companies such as Vans, Spy, Pyzel, Hurley, Monster, Stance, and Futures. His contract is worth about $3.2 million per year (totaling about $16 million). He earns most of his money from sponsorship earnings and about $164k from his competition earnings. Florence’s video, “& Again”, with edits of his surfing has become a huge hit on Vimeo, demonstrating that he is a relevant surfer popular with the general public. Between his sponsorships and competition earnings, 21 year old Florence has already set himself up for life thanks to his surf skills.