Sponsorship is always at the top of any persons agenda who is looking at turning pro in their respective sport but surrounding it are a whole host of questions, myths and facts. We’ve decided to bring to you the ultimate 101 on how to become sponsored with our top tips on what and what not do, but firstly you have to ask yourself is sponsorship really the right path? It’s not always necessary to seek sponsorship and even in some cases the pressures from sponsors can take the fun out of what you do. However, in most cases people love our sport so much that they like the idea of receiving discounted or even free gear in return for promotion of that company, and yes in some rare cases it can go as far as being paid to windsurf for a living. So how do you go about getting sponsored? What are the different levels of sponsorship? What is required of you as a sponsored rider?
Levels of Sponsorship
My top tip would be to get yourself out there, don’t be up your own ass, talk to people smile and be a happy person, approach people, help them out, don’t be shy to ask , show the sponsor what you have to offer and just love and enjoy the sport! – Colin Dixon (Club Vass superstar, Club Dahab Centre Manager and Co-founder of Windsurf Coaching)
The first level of sponsorship is being a “shop rider”. In this case, you are sponsored by your local windsurf shop/school and help them promote their products. Once the shop puts you on their “team”, you would push the shop to prospective customers and push the products the shop sells in your local area or online. You usually represent the shop at local competitions, demo days, or clinics, and you might even think about working for the shop itself. This level usually gets the rider discounts on products sold at the shop, and possibly some free gear. This is the level most riders start out at, and it’s the best way to get your foot in the door to the next step.
The next level of sponsorship is a “brand team-rider”. In this case, you may still be linked to the shop you set out with but you are now promoting one specific brand who sees potential in you. The brand or brands would ask you to also promote more on a national level, perhaps asking you to attend certain events like the National Windsurfing Festival and/or demo days. Being a “brand team-rider” usually entitles a rider to discounts on that brands products perhaps a bit better than the Shop Rider with some potential expenses covered to attend demo events (where you may also be able to compete, further improving your profile).
On an equivalent level to the “brand team-rider” is being a “rider/rep” for the company. This is similar to being a “team rider”, but it goes a bit further. In addition to doing what a “team rider” does for the company, the person also pushes the company and its products to shops. This can lead to discounts and/or free gear, as well as commission for sales to shops. This is more common for older riders, who have already gone through the competition route and who plan on maybe settling back in their home country. It is likely you would get all your kit on loan as part of a demo fleet which you would travel the country with.
The next level of sponsorship is being a “national level” or “low-level pro” rider. Usually this means that you’re on a company’s pro team under a contract (this can be a verbal contract). This contract usually entitles the rider to free gear, normally as loan equipment and perhaps some monetary incentives to help towards event travel and costs. A rider of this level will travel around the country competing and attending events to promote the brand, results are important but also exposure in magazines and online. Especially now in the times of social media, it can only work in your favour to regularly update about events, travels and new gear. In most cases the brands would want to see some video exposure also. As a “national level” rider there could be some exposure within the brands promotional material and opportunity to have your feedback on equipment reach the actual board designers or sail makers (this is a little dependant on the brands size and set-up).
The final level is being what most people think of as a “pro rider”. These are guys like Robby Swift, John Skye, Ben Proffitt, Adam Sims, Andy ‘Bubble’ Chambers, Max Rowe, Adam Lewis, etc… etc… This level of sponsorship is only given to the best in the country who then go on to represent their brands on the World Tour. Most will be within the top 3 in the UK and making good results on the European and World Tour. They will be submitting travel articles on their winter training and creating videos on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. These guys will be seen on the PWA Live Stream, may make TV appearances and could even be European/World Tour event organisers themselves (for example Robby Swift has sealed the deal on the 3 year contract to host the PWA in Chile from this December and Adam Sims managed to organise and run the first ever European Freestyle Pro Tour event in the UK last November). the brands will expect them to attend events, get the best results possible, create exposure not just in their country but worldwide yet at the same time they must still keep a strong link to their home country, perhaps attending some UK events and showing their face at the National Windsurfing Festival. In the best cases these guys will be paid a full salary for their work, travel and competition expenses will be covered and they will receive a healthy kit allowance depending on how many disciplines they do.
How Do I Get Sponsored?
I would say you need to really be friendly and approachable but at the same time really passionate about what you do and pushing the brands you are supported by. I’ve always chosen the kit I like the best, then gone about asking that brand, maybe the slightly harder approach but then I always know that I can speak truthfully about what I use to the public – Adam Sims (2011 UK Freestyle Champion, 2012 European Freestyle Windsurfer of the Year)
The most common misconception that riders have is that they think they must be sticking the latest moves and getting the best results. This is not true at all. Obviously, being a great riders is very helpful and important in gaining a sponsorship at the very top stages where you want to be considered a pro.
However, it’s not necessary to have any certain number of tricks or skill level to start getting sponsored by a local shop or as a regional team rider. What’s truly important when trying to get sponsored is your attitude towards windsurfing and you’re ability to promote the shop or company in your local area. Nobody wants to sponsor someone who is full of themselves and their windsurfing skills, so don’t be that person. Being nice to others, passionate about the sport you do, complimentary to people and the equipment you use and just showing heaps of enthusiasm will get you well on your way.
Besides your attitude, you need to show a potential sponsor how you can promote their product. Are you good at talking face to face with others? Do you compete at competitions? Will you help at demo days/trade shows? Can you judge at local competitions? Do you help push and maybe even run local events? Do you have the ability to promote their products on the internet? Are you going to be in videos? Nobody wants to sponsor a rider who’s just going to ride at their home spot with their mates all the time, they want to sponsor a rider who is out there in the public eye promoting their produts in a positive manner and pushing the sport up. These guys are the ones any brand want on board, whether or not they choose to admit it.
If you have a great attitude and can promote well, you can probably step into the early stages of sponsorship without even having a huge skill set. However, if you want to get past the shop sponsor or rider/rep levels, you’ll need to have a certain amount of advance skills to go along with your promotion and good attitude. Much of this can be learnt on the Advanced Instructor Courses that the RYA offer but from there you have to take the learning into your own hands and focus on the disciplne/s of your choice. There are no rules on what moves you should learn or techniques you should adopt. The best advice we would give you is to adapt your own style, stand out from the crowd and make sure you have some ‘interesting’ moves under the belt.
How To Get Noticed
Promote yourself, get a good camera, and talk to everyone you can. All sponsorship I have was really through people I know – John Palmer (Club Dahab Centre Manager and regular in the top of the UK Freestyle Pro scene)
You’ve got the right attitude, you are positive about the sport and getting others interested in it, how do you go about getting noticed? There are a lot of techniques you can adopt but you do not always need to utilise every single one, don’t be pushy is the key thing, so see what you think you might be able to achieve from the following and put a plan in place over a certain time period to see if you can achieve it.
- Get in good with your local shop. Try getting a job there, or catch up with shop employees and join them on windsurf sessions/trips, just let the natural course of friendship guide you there. In the end this will allow you to meet the company reps that sometimes appear at your local shop and it is never a bad thing to have your name heard of with these guys. You’ll meet other good riders in your area, get to know what’s going on in the scene, etc. and at the same time learn a lot about the sport. This is also a good way into shop sponsorship and often the first and last step for many who don’t want to progress any further but are happy receiving some discounted gear for bringing new customers along. Be careful not to see the brand reps as the next step and try and skip out the shop, you won’t do yourself any favours by closing doors. In 99% of cases it is good to keep connected to a shop for as long as you can possibly hold onto them, even many of the PWA riders still have shops as one of their sponsors and it is always nice to have a base in the UK to report back to about events, etc…
- Participate in local competitions, demo days, and clinics. Most areas have competitions or demos of some type in their area. Go to these events, talk to as many people as you can, make connections, be friendly, and try to ride as well as you can. Don’t take competing so seriously it drives you crazy, but the better you finish the better your chances. However, finishing 1st in a competition doesn’t mean you deserve a sponsorship or anything of the sort. You can also offer to judge, help out with the event and do other things at a competition. You can usually ride in your discipline and help out in other ways, often you see the top guys also judging at UK events, whilst the most keen youngsters and fresh faces are standing over their shoulders seeing what scores the best. Shops and brands appreciate that hard work and like a person who is known in the scene.
- Start your own competitions or clinics. Maybe there aren’t any events in your area. Try starting some. This shows your initiative and your ability to promote. Invite the local shops and brands to participate in your event, and they’ll get to know you and what you can do for them. Often your shop will be only too happy to offer out some demo equipment for an event but make sure you check your public liability and insurance. There is also an easy solution for this, your shop may well be covered for small events and once again another positive about being connected to your local retailer.
- Try finding out who the brand reps are through your shop and try to be in store when they come and visit, you not only get to chat with them and get a face put to your name but you get to see all the new kit. Find out if they have time to hit the water in your local area, many reps like to also windsurf in different places and would jump at the opportunity to have someone to sail with, quite often you might pick up a few tips for moves off them as well.
- Meet riders who are already sponsored. Sponsored riders usually have connections, so it’s good to meet these people and start riding with them and again you can only learn more from them if they are better then you.
- Promote yourself on the internet. There are many web sites like Boards.co.uk and Boardseeker.com that love to receive content. You can post pictures of yourself, videos, participate on the forum, write articles, write trick tips, and do other things to get your name out there. The forums are a great channel for getting tips and travel advise also.
- Further down the line think about producing a half decent video alongside a windsurfing CV to give to brands that interest you. Make a rider CV similar to a job CV that lists information about you, your contest results, best moves, how you feel about windsurfing, copies of exposure and how you can promote and benefit that particular brand. Send that all in to the Team Manager and follow up a week or so later to check that they watched it, these guys are busy so it is a really good idea to follow up. If you make it on to the team these guys will become good friends and it is always good to send them exposure that you make, they may not notice it or just miss it, so send them a short email with a link.
There are a lot of good windsurfers out there who deserve to be sponsored, but there aren’t that many companies offering sponsorship. So don’t expect sponsorship just because you can do a certain trick or you won a competition. These companies and reps meet lots of riders, so you have to be exceptional with your attitude, promotional ability, and riding to get noticed.
Obviously, you also need to start small with your local shop and local reps. It’s also helpful to start pursuing sponsorships with smaller brands who are making their way into your country. These are the ones most likely to have openings on their teams. It’s hard to just get a sponsorship from the biggest brands like Starboard/Fanatic/Tabou. Usually riders have to get sponsored by their shop, then follow the chain up, but as we said keep hold of the shop for as long as possible, after all if all things cock up with one brand you will always be able to go back to them and begin to formulate a deal with another brand and remember they are your local shop, you’ll be seeing these guys for your entire windsurfing career.