What it Means to be a Sponsored Athlete

It all started four, maybe five, years ago. I was stand up paddling on foam boards, with all borrowed gear; my paddle was duct taped together, my helmet too big, wearing scuba booties that could fit a 210 ld. 6’5” dude. I was a rookie or “gaper” by every definition. But, I loved it and I was out every day. 

Back in 2011. Thank you Shaine for lending me all your gear and getting me out on the water! 

Back in 2011. Thank you Shaine for lending me all your gear and getting me out on the water! 

 

After having a season of paddling under my belt I entered my first competition in Glenwood Springs. There I met Nikki Gregg, she was strong, beautiful, the only girl out there surfing, and she was living a life on the road. She had the lifestyle I didn’t know I was looking for. So, I asked her…”how do I get sponsored?”… And that’s how it all began.

2012 when I was just learning to surf...on borrowed gear. 

2012 when I was just learning to surf...on borrowed gear. 

Her advice was simple; put yourself out there…introduce yourself, show up to all the events, and show prospective sponsors how valuable you are. So, I did just that; it wasn’t easy for me. Promoting myself was as unnatural to me as riding a unicycle. I was clumsy and afraid of being overbearing and cocky. I’d do it as subtle as I knew how, I’d attend events, ask the Badfish guys if I could demo their boards, and awkwardly try to make conversation. It felt weird but eventually it worked. 

First year as a sponsored athlete 2012

First year as a sponsored athlete 2012

I was part of the Badfish family and it seemed like the world was my oyster; anything was possible. It wasn’t long until one sponsor became two and two became five. Self-promotion began to feel more like a means for something much bigger instead of an ego-centric ploy for attention. 

2012 Salida, CO Fibark SUP Cross

2012 Salida, CO Fibark SUP Cross

Becoming a sponsored athlete has been on my radar since I was a kid. It seemed thrilling and idyllic. It is both of those things, I love it and am so lucky, but it is not easy…especially in stand up paddling. There are very few of us that actually make money from just being an athlete. Free gear? You bet. A monthly paycheck? It happens, but it’s rare. 

So how do we get by? Many of us have other endeavors; whether it’s social media managing, sales rep, teaching, or team managing. There are some who always win (you know who you are) and can count on race winnings to get them from one event to the next. A lot of us work our asses off all Winter so we can scrape by all Summer. We sleep in vans, cars, tents, and eat a lot of items off the Manager Special rack while drinking PBR. 

I use to think being a sponsored athlete meant room service, free plane rides, personal trainers, personal gyms, and getting paid to do what you love. And that is real for the World’s top athletes; for a sport a little less obscure than whitewater SUP. This life isn’t glamorous: it’s gritty, inefficient, uncertain, fun as hell, and low-paying but every year is better than the next. Every year I am so happy I do what I do and every year another door opens making this lifestyle a little bit easier to maintain. 

Stop telling me you wish you had my life and get out and do it! You are never stuck and if you want it you will find a way. Life has a real funny way of working to your advantage and throwing you opportunities when you ask for them. Chase after your dreams! 

Photograph by Heather Jackson  

Photograph by Heather Jackson