1. Talent - Let’s start with the elephant in the corner. I’ll tell you like my shaper buddy once told a group of aspiring amateur surfers who were talking about quitting school and going pro. He said with fever, “If you’re not ripping like Slater by 12 years old, you might as well forget a career in surfing.” Sure, he’s over simplifying it, and sure, he was trying to dissuade some kids from throwing away their education for a pipe dream, but the evidence is sound. The vast majority of the top tier surfers on the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) have been winning junior pro events, being sent on photo trips to exotic locales, and surfing alongside legendary mentors since before high school. Curren, Parko, Slater, Taj, Andino, John John Florence were all talents that were identified and cultivated many years before they could drive. So, really be honest with yourself before making any decisions that may haunt you later on.
2. Competitive Aggression - No matter how mellow and chill all these surfers look on the beach and in photos, a successful pro surfer must have the potential to hassle for waves in crowds of other world class surfers and gnarly locals in order to win or get the money shot. Some surfers claim they just paddle out and go surfing like some guru medicine man, but the reality is that a professional surfer, no matter how talented, must be willing to go face to face with another competitor and even risk confrontation in order to win. This flies in the face of why most of us got into surfing in the first place. The bottom line is that most successful pro surfers would have probably been successful at some other sport if they never found surfing because they are certifiable competition addicts. Try having a “friendly” game of ping pong when the ASP boys are in town. Doubt it.
3. People Skills - Relentless ripping is no longer the only job for a pro surfer. This is the era of Target and Nike and 24-hour, 7-day coverage of everyone’s personal business. That means that you are on stage all the time, and you are often asked to make appearances and attend sponsored events as part of your contract. You can’t just sip a cold one in the corner. Oh no, instead, you will expected to smooze with fans and industry dignitaries all the while cell phone cameras are rolling. It demands social stamina and is no life for an introvert. Many have bailed on the pro scene for the safety of a life spent in empty lineups.
4. Fitness - Gone are the days of top competitors smoking cigarettes on the beach or paddling out to an event saddled with a hangover. Today’s athletes are working with trainers, eating right, and incorporating fitness regimes into their surf routines. This doesn’t mean that pro surfers don’t party. The pro tour is notorious for its raging extravaganzas, but the level of fitness needed to perform in venues like Pipeline and Sunset and J-Bay is higher than ever and most surfers are pushing themselves harder than ever to get a piece of ever increasing prize money.
5. Guts - In the 80’s, many surfers kept their seed on tour by just hopping over little mushy burgers at beach breaks like Huntington and New Smyrna Beach, but today’s gnarlier reef break venues like Teahupoo and Tavarua demand an added level of commitment. You have to be ready to throw yourself over the shelf deeper and steeper than the next guy/girl.
The bottom line is that a career in pro surfing isn’t for everyone. Only a few dozen people are pulling it off, and many of them won’t have much left over when it’s all done. And this is something that should be considered before you think about giving it a go, BUT, and as I have said before, it’s a pretty big BUT…just trying could be one of the greatest journeys of your life.
If you think you have the qualities outlined above, go for it.