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How To Become A Pro

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  • How To Become A Pro

    Windsurf Magazine from the UK just published an insightful article by Kevin Pritchard relating
    to what it takes to be a pro in the windsurfing world. Many of the applications would also apply to sailing in general, especially if you are aiming to run a specific campaign, be it on of the
    many various ocean races, and olympic gig, want to compete in classes that have a world wide tour etc. The ideas of getting and maintaining a working sponsorship relationship is universal!
    A worthwhile read!

    There’s a saying in motorsport, ‘’you can make a little money, providing you start with a lot !’’. Behind the glamour of fast cars and fancy logos lies the truth that most drivers outside of F1 actually pay for their drives and it can be equally hard to discern who is actually a financially independent pro rider in windsurfing these days. Windsurfing sponsorship or ability is not directly related to the number of stickers on your sail and the competition for Industry support has never been tougher. Nevertheless opportunities do exist and dreams can come true so we decided to decode the art of sponsorship from top pros to shop support. Read on for our guide from those that have been there, done that and either give or wear the coveted sponsored t shirt !

    ‘Photo shooting, competition results, social media, writing travel stories, arranging trips, booking tickets, training, travelling, packing, checking in, writing emails. Today’s athlete has little room for error. The art of being a team rider is becoming more and more difficult every year with budget cuts, new kids coming up, and the social media side of things ever changing the game. Combined with the small window of opportunity to be a professional athlete in a very small sport and you only have one shot when opportunity knocks.

    So what does it take to become a team rider? Well the best way to get your foot in the door is results. Race results, wave events or some form of proof that you should be on the team. If you are not doing contests or there are no contests around your area, working with a key shop in your area and being the local hotshot on the beach is one of the best ways to get your first sponsor. When the shop that is buying the boards or sails recommends a rider to a brand, it is pretty hard for them to say no. You might not start off with a free board, but maybe a discount to help you move closer to your goal. Next up, start gathering some photos, videos and records of your results or coverage from magazines and websites. To be noticed and achieve exposure you need to stand out from the pack these days so offer Editors a different angle and make sure your videos are slick and clean. I like to keep my sponsors informed as much as possible and send in reports of what I have been up to. I am doing a lot of events throughout the year so it gives me plenty of things to write about. I try to tell them about the events, who was in it and how I did. This keeps your name going through their desk and the next time you come up for contract negotiation they are like oh yeah that guy has been working !

    $ Any team rider needs to cruelly consider themselves as a ‘ product that will help grow sales $ Dave Hackford

    Sponsorship is pretty cut throat. For the last 20 years, every year around October, its contract renewal time. It is pretty rare unless you are Philip Køster to get more than a one year deal. You know the saying, you are only as good as your last race, well that holds so true when you are trying to keep your sponsorship budget alive. You start thinking about if you did good enough, if you are going to make the team, did I do enough travel stories, is the brand as a whole selling enough gear to keep up with the budgeting. This is stress month, you’re in? you’re out?, do you have another brand who wants to work with you? For me, I always do best when I had a backup plan. If I had a backup plan ready to go I could go in with all my confidence and be like I want to stay with you guys, I want to be loyal to the brand, but this is what I need to happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    This year was no different for me, my contract is up at the end of the season and while yeah maybe I am getting on in age, I still want to keep this lifestyle going. I love windsurfing and I love to do promotions, test equipment and get creative with new designs but how do I justify myself to my sponsors if I am just sitting on the couch all year. As I approach contract renewal, I venture down to the Bangkok Headquarters and straight into the negotiating room to iron out my 2015 contract and hoping to get a raise. Straight away Starboard come in with an array of congratulatory comments on my performances throughout the year, it throws me off guard ! I continue with my game plan and whip out my list of things that I have been doing, current leader of the AWT, writing articles for magazines, being on the web, being on Facebook, making videos, promoting myself as well as the brand. After haggling back and forth I managed to snag some more boards on the old contract and thanked my lucky stars for my 15th year on Starboard’s Dream Team. It has been a good run ! Contracts will typically layout exactly what the brand expects from a rider and what they are prepared to give, what people may not realise is there are also sometimes cash incentives for world titles or exposure (please give me a front cover Mr Editor !) =)

    So now being in my older years, who do I think is worth the cash money moolah these days? Well as you can tell by now, the playing field has changed a bit. Of course I think that I am worth the most, Ha ha.. Well maybe not, but doing my fair share of internet, videos, magazine travel stories, and actually being able to discuss what a board or sail does or how it works to a potential customer or shop owner I feel like I am in a great position for a brand, because I can rip harder than most people on the beach and can also be a great ambassador for the brands that I am representing. The age, talent and ability to relate to the older clientele that buys windsurfing equipment is a huge plus.

    Brands realize though they have to have the complete package. You have to have the riders doing the articles, media, testing the equipment as well as young kids doing the dreamy, insane moves that 99.9999% of windsurfers will never ever do. In my mind I see Robby Swift doing a great job. He has managed to keep a good contract with JP / Pryde throughout his injury prone years and I think it is mainly because what he does off the board as well as on the board. He makes all the JP videos and is filming all the time with his wife Heidy, and the brand can feel a real value coming back in. Sure when he goes out and does a pushloop forward in Gran Canaria, it is awesome and amazing, but if he does it and no one sees it, does it count for his sponsors ?
    Boujamaa is one who gets a ton of print coverage. When I was in the office, nearly every mag had him on a cover or double page spread that was just some insane jump with a rainbow behind him. Working with photographers, doing crazy bad ass stuff always gets you a good look.

    While so much of the hype is focused on Facebook and web related stuff, sponsors love to see tons of print media. When they pay so much for an advert, it helps them monetize how much it is worth for a rider to be on the cover. The brands spends a large amount of money to place an add on the inside cover, so for Bouj or whoever to be doing something unbelievable with the Starboard Tiki right in your face, that is worth a lot for a brand.

    Thomas Traversa and his girlfriend do a great job together, awesome web clips, I even saw her out filming for the GA photoshoot last year. The cost savings to a brand to have these sort of girlfriend film teams is enormous and a real plus as a rider. Sure if you’re Køster, Brawzinio or Antoine you can get by on just being a badass but it sure looks to me like the people that are building their presence through print, web, and competition are the ones that are here to stay. While being a professional windsurfer sounds like all fun and games, you have to want it and make sure you do a great job on all aspects. When my nephew asks me if he should become a pro windsurfer like his dad and uncle what am I going to say. Is it too late to make the millions that the Naish, Dunkerbeck, Polokow, Pritchard, Siver era has enjoyed ? Every time I think yeah, it’s too late, you better start swinging a golf club, I see guys like Køster coming up, working hard, huge talent, getting the sponsorship, and living the dream. If you want it bad enough, and are ready to sacrifice everything you got, you can still do it. Work hard, play hard, and love it from your soul and there is nothing that can stop you.

    Dave Hackford
    Brand Manager Tushingham

    Working in the windsurfing industry is pretty extraordinary if you compare it to the cut throat nature of other industries. We all want to be on the water windsurfing, and for that reason team riders will always exist, because they take the brand on the water, and effectively take their sponsor’s with them. There is nothing quite as rewarding as having the phone call from one of you riders on Sunday night to say they have clinched the National title. Apart from winning it yourself! So How does Tushingham work out they need a team rider? The first step is to find out if there is a budget to spend on a rider. The general rule of thumb for a brand is to allocate 5% of turnover directly to marketing initiatives. Those initiatives are spread across diverse areas: For example; photo shoots, advertising, social media costs, exhibitions, promotions, conferences and team riders. So any team rider needs to cruelly consider themselves as a ‘product that will help grow sales by reaching the consumer’. Once that has registered – the goal should be clear.

    It is pretty hard to quantify the expenditure on many marketing initiatives, like exhibitions and social media, but good team riders can directly show a return. Back in the wonder years of windsurfing a ‘racing’ team rider could have a direct influence on sales of a board. If the rider won a national race the importer would see sales arrive on Monday morning. Racing participation has dwindled over the years. Tushingham has a core market in the Freeride and crossover sector of windsurfing, so with declining coverage of events from around the UK, it was important for us to consider supporting more team riders to show the products off on the beach in local patches.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    by Dave Hackford


    1.When getting started, build a relationship with your local shop or windsurfing centre. Every rider I know has started from this level.

    2.Understand the raw basics of sponsorship, which is to help grow sales for the sponsor. The sponsor’s job is to help give you the tools to do it.

    3. Stay in contact with your sponsor. But above all make sure you contact them more regularly with what you have delivered rather than asking them to deliver more to you.

    4. Make sure you know about the equipment before you apply for sponsorship. You MUST believe in the kit.

    5. Report back on the performance of the kit. Good and bad.

    6. Look to the future. Consider the strength of the company that may sponsor you. A long term sponsorship relationship is generally beneficial. Is it the right company for five years ahead?

    7. Understand how social media works, and use it.

    8. When in the higher league – report back to your sponsor annually on what you have achieved.


    1. Assume potential sponsor’s know who you are, or you are looking for support.

    2. Choose your sponsor based purely on financial return.

    3. Only contact your sponsor when you need something

    4. Criticise competitors kit too openly – you never know…… may be knocking on their door.

    5. Do not be seen on another brands kit

    6. If you are going to switch sponsors let your old sponsor know well before hand. It’s a small sport so important to keep good relations within it if you want a career in professional windsurfing.

    Luke Green
    Team and Digital Media Manager, Tushingham

    Sponsorship has changed a lot, as a brand, content is king, the more the better, populating websites, social media and online videos are the platforms that help us promote our products and we would seek our sponsored athlete to assist in this with rider driven articles to balance alongside our product information online. In compiling our team we seek a diversity of characters so you have people like Muzza who are great online and on demos and people like Timo who are really strong in print and video production. Peter Hart is a great all rounder, he produces content on and offline, engages with customers on his clinics and supports customers questions by email and on our website. Simon Bornhoft is similar and for coaches there is a great synergy as they promote the brand and themselves. You don’t have to have the most talent to be a valuable rider, being approachable and easy to talk to on the beach is important too, our British Slalom Champion James Dinsmore is excellent at this.

    Ian Gregorelli
    Owner Boardwise Windsurfing Shop

    We have a long history of supporting up and coming sailors including Ben Proffitt, Byrony Shaw and Nick Dempsey. It shows how support can help people in the early stages of their career and no limit to what you can achieve with the right attitude. That is important to us, we want our riders to be good ambassadors off the water, willing to help other sailors and be influential on their local beach, in return typically we offer deals on kit. A good example of our riders would be top racer Sam Latham who is very active on the internet or Davey Edmondson, who is a larger than life wavesailor from Scotland who really helps get people excited about gear and directs business to our shop. You need that mix of characters on your team. Sponsorship can also come from being involved at grass roots in the sport, we like to support instructors at Club Vass for example and are heavily involved in Student Windsurfing where we help club leaders and bring kit to events so everyone can try our great sport. It’s something I enjoy doing, seeing people get on the water, it actually costs me money which people may laugh about me putting my hand in my pocket but I don’t mind, sponsorship is for the good of the sport !

    Jimmy Diaz
    PWA Chairman

    The best athletes I know are the ones who from an early age knew exactly what they wanted and immediately started going after it. I believe to get sponsored and to become successful in windsurfing, or any other aspect of life for that matter, you have to have a deep rooted passion and love for the sport or chosen profession. This is what will give you the fuel to pursue your goals. Once you know you have this then it’s up to hard work and time on the water, although if you really love the sport “hard work” is actually play.

    To become sponsored you have to show potential and value to your sponsors. There is a variety of ways to do this in the windsurfing industry. Some of the ways are through competition results, magazine and media exposure, clinics, and equipment testing. The most important thing right now would be to start competing as much as possible at your local and regional level. Set your goals to ultimately start winning these events. As you are getting closer to achieving this goal you can start looking to your local shops or distributors to see if you can set up a sponsorship agreement with them. Let them know as clear as possible your goals and your plans and how you plan to execute them. The clearer the picture you have in your head about where you want to go, the more confidence you will give a company to sponsor you. Start making a resume of your event results and collect any pictures or articles you may get from your local paper, newsletters, or magazines. Present this to the shop or company and let them know how serious you are about achieving your goals. Prove it to them by working hard and also offering to help with things such as in store clinics or demos. Be yourself and remember that enthusiasm, initiative, and being on time go a long way.

    Words Kevin Pritchard // Photos John Carter

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