Do Pro Surfers Pay for Boards? (& Other Perks Only the Best Get)

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Do Pro Surfers Pay for Boards
Robert Elgar

Most surfers dream of the pro lifestyle. Traveling around and surfing the world’s most pristine locations, making bank, getting free clothing, and a choice of all the surfboards that you want.

But is this really the pro-surfer lifestyle?

Most professional surfers do not get their boards for free, and even fewer of them are sponsored at all.

Although the elite class of surfers will get their merchandise, surfboards, flights, and accommodation paid for, this is reserved only for the best of the best.

Below we will take a deeper look at how professionals get free surfboards, what it requires, and the types of boards they are most likely to ride.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links (clearly marked with ), which means we may earn a commission if you buy something through them, at no additional cost to you.

Do Professional Surfers Pay for Their Boards?

As mentioned above, although some surfers do not pay for their boards, the majority of competing surfers pay for the majority of their gear.

As far as world surfing goes, there are two leading competitions: the World Qualifying Series (WQS) and the World Championship Tour (WCT).

The WCT is reserved for the top 60 – 100 surfers, who are most likely to be sponsored (although this is not always the case).

The WQS is an open qualifying competition with sometimes over 2000 surfers.

These surfers are – more often than not – arriving without sponsors and therefore will need to pay for their boards.

Even when these surfers are lucky enough to land a sponsor it is likely to be for discounted products, or surfboards at cost price, not for free.

Why Some Pro Surfers Don’t Have to Pay for Their Boards

As you should now well know, most pro surfers do not get their boards paid for.

However, there must be a reason that brands choose to sponsor certain surfers.

Branding and sponsorship are all about the image of a company.

Providing a well-known professional athlete with gear, which can include clothing, cars, or sport-specific equipment, in this case:

will help the brand create recognition within the community, and therefore expand its sales.

Some of the most common reasons a brand will sponsor surfers include:

  • Improve brand image: Sponsoring athletes creates an image for the brand. For example, Redbull is well known within extreme sports, Vans is closely linked to skateboarding, and Quiksilver is associated with surfing.
  • Increase sales: As athletes use branded products, the brand increases its exposure. Furthermore, fans tend to follow their idols and often purchase the same clothing and equipment that their heroes use.
  • Creates a community: By sponsoring famous surfers, companies create a community around their brand. This puts a well-known and liked face to their products and adds some personal touch.
  • Product testing: By giving their products to pro surfers, the brand demonstrates the effectiveness of their products. This encourages trust in the brand.

Ultimately, companies pay for some surfers boards to expand their brand, and therefore improve sales of their products and services.

Some sponsors even go so far as to pay for surfer’s hotels, flights, and transport to and from events.

They do this because having their name behind a winner will create massive exposure.

This is also why surf brands only sponsor the best surfers.

They are essentially investing in the best advertising that they can.

What Boards Do Pro Surfers Use?

Each surfer has their own style, and with this come different preferences in surfboards.

As a common rule, pro surfers use epoxy/fiberglass boards.

These boards are usually a few inches taller or shorter than the surfer (depending on preference).

The shape and size always come down to the individual, for example:

John John Florence has called the Ghost one of his favorite board designs with a size of approximately 5’9” long. His personal board is of course custom made and has a volume of 26.5 l.

Cassy Moore, different from John John, prefers the Pocket Rocket, or the Diver.

Although top surfers are sponsored, and often get their boards for free, they do not always surf on boards provided by their sponsor.

In the case that a pro surfer is sponsored by, for example, Hurley, but their favorite surfboard is a Quiksilver, but they do not get their boards for free from Quiksilver, they may choose to put Hurley stickers or branding on the board.

How Many Boards Do Pro Surfers Need?

As it is their lifestyle, it is expected that pro surfers would go through many boards a year. 

Some pro surfers will go through as many as 40 surfboards each season.

This could be because their boards break, because of new sponsors, or to adjust for the conditions.

These boards are given to the surfers to do with what they will.

Often they are sold after being used for a short time, but when a pro loves a board, they may keep it until it is no longer usable.

A general recommendation for a competing surfer would be to have a minimum of four boards at all times. These would include:

  • A standard board
  • A board for small swell
  • A board for big swell
  • A backup standard board

This of course is a recommendation for all surfers, and most pro surfers will carry more than the above when traveling from competition to competition.

Do They Get a New Board Every Year?

If a surfer’s contract with their sponsor is over a number of years or is renewed each year, then it is likely they will receive new boards every year.

This usually comes down to the contract that the athlete has signed with the brand.

In some cases, it may be for new boards each competition, each month, once a year, or as requested.

How Much Do Pro Boards Cost?

Professional surfboards can vary greatly in price, depending on the brand.

For example, PYZEL boards (the same shaper that makes John John’s favorite) can be as cheap as USD 800, while others such as Channel Islands, which are one of Jordy Smith’s favorite shapers, price some of their boards well over USD 1000.

Although pro surfboards look amazing and are designed to cut through the waves like no other, they are often not ideal for new surfers.

If you are a beginner it is best to invest in a cheaper all-around board.

Once you have gained confidence and are ready to move onto smaller boards you could consider a pro surfboard.

What Other Perks Do Pro Surfers Get?

Although free, custom-made surfboards are amazing, they are far from the best perks that a sponsored surfer receives.

Competing in a tournament can be extremely costly. Events can occur all around the world, which would require flights, accommodation, transport, and other daily expenses.

One of the biggest perks of a sponsor is that they may cover all of these costs.

When you make your living from competing in competitions, a lot of stress is lost when you get to compete in them for free.

Besides travel expenses, pros often get commissions from brands for the merchandise they sell.

These types of endorsements are the backbone of a pro surfers career as competitions do not pay that much, and the chance of winning is even less.

Conclusion

Pro surfers who are good enough, or have a big enough following, may be lucky enough to be offered a sponsorship by leading brands. 

These sponsorships often come with free or heavily discounted surfboards.

Although this is the case for some, the majority of pro surfers still pay for their own boards and all of their competition expenses.

In short, if you want free things in the surfing world, you need to be the best of the best.

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By Robert Elgar

Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, Robert Elgar is no newbie when it comes to ocean sports. Rob has been surfing since he was a kid, and later teaching others to surf, so he is as familiar with the ocean as he is with the land. Now living in Malaysia, Rob alternates between his Divemaster work and heading to Indonesia to hit some of the world's most famous breaks. If you would like to contact Rob about surfing, Scuba Diving or freelance writing, you can email him at [email protected]