Surfers have a reputation for being cool, laid back and sexy. I’m talking, of course, about the professional ones with their seamless suntans and freshly squeezed physiques rather than, well, the rest of us. Those whose very act of lashing a surfboard to our ankles transforms it from an uber-cool sporting accessory into an oversized, unpredictable, and rather vicious flotation device.
But enough about reputations, I wanted to explore the reality.
So, at Sydney’s inaugural Australian Open of Surfing at the unfairly beautiful Manly Beach, I took the chance to chat to the surfing pros and set about stripping those myths bare.
Bad news for most of us, I’m afraid, you need to start young. Mitch Crews from Australia, Laura Crane from the UK and Brett Simpson from the US all told me that they weren’t that young when they started. But they were younger than 12.
“You need to surf as much as you can,” says Mitch. “At least once a day, every day. Often more than that.”
Laura Crane stood wrapped in a towel. “Unless the weather stops me,” she says, “I’ll head into the water at least two or three times a day.”
While none of them would confirm this as a requirement, I couldn’t help but notice that they all grew up near the surf as they hit their teens. But apart from actually having access to the stuff, the quality of surf didn’t seem to matter.
“Some of the best surfers in the world come from Florida,” said Mitch, “and the surf’s not so good there.”
Besides the scantily clad teens, the sand, the beer, the cameras and the music, it’s the men and the women of the marketing machine who keep the show on the road. Sponsorship from companies like Hurley and Billabong boost the take-home pay from competition prizes to keep pro surfers on the road. With over 20 professional competitions a year, from Sydney to Hawaii to Bali to Tahiti and beyond, just turning up becomes an expensive business.
When Mitch won his latest heat and emerged from the waves, a sponsor was waiting with branded hat and sunglasses to reach his man before the interviews began.
But how do you attract the attention of the sponsors?
For Mitch, Hurley approached him after he won his first youth championship. For Laura, her break came during a Billabong Weekend in her hometown of Devon.
“I’m trying to raise my profile. To get out there,” she said. “I just want to live this lifestyle for as long as I can.”
“You’re travelling most of the time – and you’re on your own. I try to travel with friends but then you often end up competing with each other,” said Brett Simpson.
“Even if you’re one of the best out there, you still lose a lot. You have to get used to becoming a good loser.”
Yep, along with age, it’s this one that’s going to be the stickler for the vast majority of us. And while it’s obvious – and true – it’s a testament to the pros that not one of them mentioned it. All went for hard work, passion and practice. See, it turns out that pro surfers are cool and laid back.
And as for the sexy part? I’ll have to leave that up to you.
The Australian Open of Surfing will be back this time next year with free entry, bands, a skate park and the chance to watch some of the best pro surfers do their thing.