Words by Koz Kamer
You’re kid has become a stand out at your local, and is blowing away people years older in the line up. As a parent, you look at your child’s passion and rapidly increasing skill set, and decide its time to test their merits in some organized comps. They make some finals, go to national title comps, and start gathering attention and sponsorship along the way. As a parent, we tend to see our kids through rose colored glasses. We believe that the actual filter we use to watch our kids is in fact the same vision that others should. Usually, they are not. As parents, we want the best for our kids, and start pestering their sponsors for a little more help. These comps run about $110 US per event, not to mention the money being shelled out for hotels, gas, food, etc. When the industry was healthy, that sort of pushing could result in some funding. Brands anxious to grow their next round of marketable talent, and revenues allowing for increased marketing spend, there was no reason NOT to throw some $ at development.
But, many of the 13-17 year old prospects were being courted by agents, who saw “$” coming into action sports, and could help them get their desired financial and marketing support. Thus, the price tags went way up! Win a National Title, you are entering $35k territory from a top brand. Plus energy drinks, sunglasses, sunblock, etc.. all ponying up some coin to a 13 year old kid who is suddenly making 50K a year. The kid and parents think that this is suddenly a “lock” in a long term and fruitful career that will have them traveling the world collecting massive cash for the foreseeable future. And so you double down, pull them out of school, hire a coach, spend money on travel and video edits etc. Then the growth spurt. Boards become an issue. You blame the equipment for the lack of development, and start losing in round 2. Change board makers, take a few extra days to travel to comp sites paying a coach to learn the lineup. Meanwhile, you are draining your funds, and your kids funds, thinking the investment will pay off. In all probability, it wont. It may show some improvement, but the WCT is made of 32 surfers, 20 of which are guaranteed a spot the next year, allowing for only 10 available spots (2 are usually injury wildcards). Now, this isnt the NFL that has a few hundred players in its major ranks at any given time. But the career expectancy for an NFL player is 3 years.
So getting to the point, there is an extremely high improbability that any kid is going to make . So lets look at what that can look like in a couple of ways.
Scenario 1. Child works hard, gets a good financial backing for a few years, but fails to translate amateur success into pro contest results. They flounder around low level WQS events, blowing much of the nest egg and travel allowances only to be onto the next stop without any note worthy results. Backing company offers less money or opts not to resign athlete at all. Now what? Agent has moved on to better prospects, and now you are forced to grind to make a living. Surfing has no plan b for this tier. But seemingly, the RX on mum and dads glasses has still not been able to see that the dream is over. Its time to move on. But, instead, they hire yet another coach. They hire a filmer and start squandering money on travel for a 3 minute edit that lives and dies within 24 hours after being posted and any surf media outlet. 3k views. No new sponsors.
Childhood sponsor cash spent, most are forced to learn a trade, or find a new kind of excitement to live for. I mean, it is a harsh reality to deal with when the highlight era of your life has passed you by. And now you’re forced to work for half of what you made at age 16 doing what you loved, and starting over with something you most likely will not enjoy. And going from everyone praising you, to being the low man on any trade totem pole. Also, your social skills are not at a high level, being that you did not have the sort of social development most people get from attending middle and high school. A severe disadvantage for your path to self sustaining, and finding a career that will fulfill you the same meaningful ways your time surfing did.
I have seen a few decades pass through my tired eyes, which from a young age were focused squarely out to sea. And young surfers are evolving at a younger and younger age into standouts among even their hi level predecessors. But the focus has narrowed. We are asking these kids to shun all other sports, social activities, and free time to develop passions for things not directly related to salt water. Sending 12 year olds to sports trainers, and seeing injuries to knees and ankles that require surgeries. The blueprint has been laid out for these kids via other overzealous young talents in sports like basketball and football. But hey, when have we ever learned from others mistakes?