What Do Surfers Do for a Living? (& Jobs Best Suited for Surfers)

Robert Elgar

As a surfer, you likely have your favorite spot where you find yourself returning time and time again.

As you do this, it is likely that you begin to see the same faces in the water, but have you ever wondered what all these surfers do when they leave the ocean?

Surfing is a sport for everyone, and therefore there are no limits to the type of work surfers do when they are out the water.

From homeless people, construction workers, retail salespeople to lawyers, insurance brokers, and politicians – the world of surfing is appealing to all types of people.

Even so, there are those special few that make their living from surfing itself, whether it be as a professional surfer, or simply working in the surfing industry.

Which Jobs Are Best Suited to the Surfing Lifestyle?

If you are a surfing junky and want to be hitting the waves as much as possible, there are a few types of jobs that will be best for your interest.

Instead of labeling a list of thousands of actual jobs that could suit a surfing lifestyle, it is better to take a look at what certain types of jobs offer, and from there you can decide if your work suits your purpose.

Of course, these jobs would be those that allow you the most time to surf, with the most flexibility in time, and the opportunity to experience new locations.

Freelancing and Online Work

Possibly the most ideal work to do when you want to surf is becoming a freelancer, and better yet, a freelancer that works online.

When you work online you provide yourself with the ability to work from anywhere. 

This means that it is possible to move from city to city, and country to country, experiencing all the best surf locations that the world has to offer.

Furthermore, freelancing provides you with the added flexibility of time.

When you do not work on a specific time schedule you will always be able to take advantage of the best tides, wind conditions, and swell.

Night Shifts

Working a job that allows you to take a night shift could also be a great situation. 

Most people choose to surf during daylight hours, although there is something special about surfing at night.

When you have the entire day free (although you will likely want to get some sleep in) it gives you the option to hit the waves when the swell is rolling in. 

A few hours in the water at the peak of the surf day will still leave you plenty of time to sleep and recover for your night at work, while also allowing you the pleasure of an uncrowded surf.

Travel Work

Work that allows – or requires – you to travel can also put you in some amazing surf locations that you would otherwise not find yourself in.

Imagine being sent to Singapore for a meeting, and knowing that Indonesia and all its jaw-dropping reefs are less than two hours away.

Or traveling to Japan to meet a colleague or business partner while knowing that Japan has some of the world’s leading surf.

Perhaps you are being relocated to Australia for a year’s contract, knowing that you will be able to experience some of the world’s best waves.

Although travel work does not always provide a large amount of free time, there is always the odd day here and there that will allow you the opportunity to surf breaks that you would otherwise not have considered.

Flexible Bosses and Managers

Working for a flexible boss is every working person’s dream. 

When your boss does not care when you come in late, is not watching over your shoulder every second of the day, and allows you to take time off from work or extended breaks, you know you are in a good position.

Working for a boss that believes in the idea of “I don’t care what you do, as long as you get your work done” is an amazing situation.

In this case, you are given the freedom to leave the office when the waves are pumping, head to the breach for an hour so that you don’t miss out, and then return to do what is required of you.

Although this may sound strange, there are thousands of companies that work this way, and simply asking your boss to treat you like this may leave you pleasantly surprised with the answer.

Oceanside Work 

What could be a more perfect work location as a surfer than working next to the ocean

Your oceanside job can be anything from watersports-related, working at a restaurant, or any other retail store.

It is not so much the work you are doing, but the advantage of being able to keep an eye on the swell and take advantage of your lunch break to get in some rides before returning to your job.

This, combined with the above “flexible boss” situation, could be a dream come true for any surfing enthusiast.

Professional Surfers

“Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life”.

When all you want to do is surf, by far the best job would be one that allows you to surf all day or the majority of the time.

Becoming a pro surfer and ride waves with the likes of Jordy Smith, John John Florence, and Kelly Slater is a journey that many aspiring surfers aim for, but the reality is that only an incredibly small number of people will get there.

Although this sounds like a dream job, it is not the only way you can make surfing your working lifestyle.

Becoming a surf shop retailer or a surf coach can give you the same enjoyment of surfing most of the day while making money in an industry that you love.

Many people believe that to become a professional surfer you need to be the best of the best, but remember that professional means being paid for an activity.

Coaching surfers or even teaching newcomers the basics still counts and can provide an amazing lifestyle.

Can You Make a Living as a Professional Surfer?

As mentioned above, it is very possible to make a living as a professional surfer.

However, if you are planning to be a competition surfer, it is only the best surfers in the world that can survive from their surfing income alone.

Let’s take a look at a few professional surfing industries and compare the average salaries across them.

How Much Do the Best Surfers Earn?

According to surfertoday.com, the average top-ranked surfer can earn between 100,000 USD to over 2 million USD per year.

Although the earnings from competitions are relatively low, these surfers maintain the majority of their income through sponsorships and merchandise.

This, however, is not always true.

When a professional surfer finds themself unsponsored, just like Dayyan Neve did in 2007, they stand to make much less.

Dayyan, during this time, found himself spending 100,00 USD of his own money traveling to competitions around the world, and only made 70,000 USD in prize money, therefore coming out at a loss when the end of the season arrived.

How Much Do Top-End Surf Coaches Make?

As for coaches that oversee the training of competition surfers such as John John Florence (the highest paid surfer of 2018) it is assumed that they are paid extremely well.

Although there is no easily accessible data that provides a number, when a surf coach is a semi-retired professional surfer, and their student has made $5,329,200 a year (as did John in 2018) then it is safe to assume that they make a very good living.

How Much Do Surf Instructors Make?

Everywhere in the world is different, and therefore prices for surf instructors differ greatly.

In South Africa, where surf lessons are cheap, an instructor can be paid between USD 4 to USD 10 per class.

In other places of the world such as Australia, schools pay between $15 and $20 per hour. This can become higher when working at retreats and resorts.

Assuming that the prime surf season lasts half the year, and a coach has 5 lessons a day, 5 days a week, as the lowest-paid coach you will average approximately USD 100 per week, and only USD 400 per month.

In South Africa, this may be enough to survive during the surf season, but when the season comes to an end instructors will be out of work.

In more expensive countries such as Australia, this is not a livable wage.

However, the salaries are higher and if you find yourself in a year-round surf spot, becoming a surf instructor may support a frugal lifestyle.

What Do Most (Non-Professional) Surfers Do for a Living?

As mentioned before, surfers, who do not work as professionals, have a large array of jobs.

Because the ocean and extreme sports such as surfing are appealing to so many people (approximately 20 million surfers worldwide) there is a large number of industries that surfers work in.

There is no actual correlation between what people do for a living and their love for surfing.

What Do Californian Surfers Do for Work?

Relating to the idea that there is no way of telling what surfers do for a living, it is difficult to assess what Californian surfers do as jobs.

However, it is possible to make an assumption purely on statistics.

According to 2000 data, there were approximately 1,114,000 surfers in the state at the time.

Other data, taken in 2020 shows the largest occupations in California.

The results of this survey show that 597,500 people work in the home health and personal care industry.

With a total population of 39.37 million, 1.5% of the population works in this sector.

Although these statistics are averages, and the years do not perfectly correlate, if we use this data in the surfing population, we can assume that 16,710 surfers in California work in the home health and personal care industry.

This would, according to the data, be the highest concentrated job sector for surfers.

Keep in mind that this is simply an average data guesstimate and does very likely not represent the reality of the situation.

What Are Jobs in the Surfing Industry?

It is likely now clear that there is no need for a surfing enthusiast to work in the surfing industry in order to maintain a surfing lifestyle.

However, if you wish to make surfing into a paid profession, here is an example list of a few jobs you could do:

  1. Competition surfer
  2. Competition surf coach
  3. Surf instructor
  4. Surf fitness trainer
  5. Surf school owner
  6. Retail surf store owner/ salesperson
  7. Water photographer/ videographer
  8. Surf reporter (competitions, surf conditions, etc.)
  9. Surf blogger/ social media influencer
  10. Surf Educator (books, online articles, etc.)
  11. Surfboard shaper

These are only a handful of examples of how you can make a living from the surfing world.

As more and more people become addicted to the sport, more and more opportunities are created.

Conclusion

Although when most people think of surfers they assume that they are laid-back, have low-end jobs, or are simply beach bums, this is far from the truth.

The surfing world spans across all types of people and industries.

Surfing is a sport for everyone and therefore includes those who do all types of work.

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