When you're on top you're earning. While the pay gap in surfing is considerable, the cheques of the premiere ladies and gentlemen might surprise. A money-wise, skilled surfer can pull in upward of a few mill a year. Which is pretty cushy when you consider they spend their time travelling the world in search of the highest quality waves. These are the one percent who never listened to the old surfing will leave you bankrupt riff. Without further ado, let's get to the numbers:
1. John John Florence.
2016 was John John’s year, from The Eddie win to the world title to the triple crown. John’s profits align with his competitive success – JJF is the highest paid surfer in the world, earning what equates to an astronomical $700 an hour. What you might find interesting is that this is the first time in over 10 years since Kelly Slater that the world champ has owned the biggest pay cheque in the world. Before John’s almost-$4m-a-year deal with Hurley, the largest contract was Dane Reynolds’ $3.5m deal with Quiksilver, who peaked competitively at fourth in the world in 2010.
John is Hurley’s first male world champ, who also picks up the standard world title million dollar bonus. Well, standard if you ride for any of the big surf co’s (last year, Adriano didn’t get the big bonus from Hawaiian Dreams, who own the space on his nose).
John has a smaller energy drink deal; because his hat is owned (entirely) by Hurley, it's not co-branded with Monster. Energy drinks live and die by the hat but this was a non-negotiable for Hurley. And, for a guy like John, the most precious commodity for him is time. The less obligations he has, the better. Less cash and more time for surfing? Of course, said John.
Nixon’s team is an interesting study. The team all have to agree on new signings and they’re all paid the same amount. Obviously, some get more funding for projects and trips but the base salary is the same. John picked up $406k in prize money on top of his $75k for winning the Eddie and a further WSL world title bonus of $150k. John also rolls with Nike as his unofficial footwear sponsor because Hurley is owned by Nike. He wears no stickers, however.
John signed with DaKine for 2017 so next year he’ll be earning a touch more than his 700 bones an hour, even while he sleeps.
Sponsors: Hurley, Spy, Stance, Monster, Futures, Nixon and Pyzel surfboards. 2016 prize money: $631k Total earnings: circa $6.1m
The story goes that when Rip Curl ask Gabs what he wants in his signature boardshort, he says he wants his trunks to just look gangster. We’d love to see a Gabs short that reflects his personality: Gloss black panelling against matt black mesh, with gold chains dripping off the pocket and sections around the waistband. This would look mental in the tube at Teahupoo or eight feet in the air over Rio.
PHOTOGRAPHY RAFAEL MOURA
2. Gabriel Medina
There aren’t too many marketing strategies in the world not interested in social media following, and Gabriel Medina sits atop the pro surfing pile with an unfathomable 5m. This almost triples the following of world-class Instagramer and 11-time world champ, Kelly Slater. Gabs has achieved national hero status in Brazil (and is lauded across the world, for that matter) and is a highly-desirable ambassador. Brazilians aren’t as precious as Australians or Americans when it comes to loading up their boards with sponsor stickers or “selling out”, and Gabs makes hay while the vitamin D shines. Gabs board is Nascar status, repping everyone from Guarana Soda to Telcos. You might remember rumours that Gabs was approached by Quiksilver at the end of 2015 when Quik had deep pockets after the loss of Dane Reynolds. Quik offered Gabs $3.2m but because it was through a new manager, he decided to stay with Rip Curl because the commission taken from the manager as “a new deal” meant that he’d make more money staying with Rip Curl. Even though Gabs knew he’d be the marquee surfer for Quik, he opted to stay with the Curl, and remain in Mick Fanning's shadow.
And, while he does well with the surf brands, it’s the best Brazilian surfer of all time’s non-endemic earnings that significantly build his annual income. Stab has learned that his deals from Oi, Guarani and Coppertone are all worth around $750k each.
Sponsors: Rip Curl, Coppertone, Mitsubishi, Oi, Oakley, Samsung Galaxy, Guarana Soda, FCS and Pukas surfboards. Prize money: $282k Total earnings: circa $5.5m
In November, Kelly Slater said that his favourite video parts are created by Jordy Smith, a title usually reserved for surfers with little competitive game. World title runner-up now makes him one of the world’s most desirable.
3. Jordy Smith.
Jordy Smith’s year ended with him knocking Gabriel Medina out of second in the world spot at Pipe which meant for a major payday from his marquee sponsors. Podium finishes are the money and this is the second time Jordy has finished just shy of a world title (he finished second to Kelly in 2010). The San Clemente-based South African scored almost a million dollars in incentives from Red Bull and O'Neill on top of his O'Neill base salary of around $1m. His pay cheque is all about the big-monied sponsorships as his subsidiary sponsors collectively bring in around $500k.
Like most surfers, Jordy is taking a long-term view and is trying to take ownership in new brands. He recently signed with Trace, the surfing GPS tech company. He takes equity in the brand, meaning he forfeits a salary and takes a holding in the company. Jordy also signed recently with a non-surf footwear company, Brand Black.
Jordy’s O'Neill contract negotiation will be up soon for his 2018 contract and he is firm believer he can get a world title. His contest performance this year will seriously help these conversations around salary. A very close follower of the world tour, who preferred to speak anonymously, said this of Jordy: “This guy should be world champ, without question. The guy is 6 fucking 3! Have you the size of this guy’s legs? He should be walking around the contest area growling at people. His turns are the biggest turns on tour. I don’t think people have any idea how fucking good this guy is. He needs to be an intimidating force and guys would just melt in front of him.”
Sponsors: O’Neill, Futures, Red Bull, Trace, Oakley, Vestal, Neff, Channel Islands, Brand Black. Prize money: $272k Total earnings: circa $3m
Mick is the people’s champ: The world’s second-most recognisable surfer and, just recently, absolutely the most adored.
PHOTOGRAPHY HAROLD DAVID FOR VAN HUESEN
4. Mick Fanning
Mick Fanning is the second most famous surfer in the world (to Kelly Slater). Well, before the shark deal in 2015... however, Mick has been a man who sells product. From open-toe footwear to fins and wetsuits, an investment in Mick provides a clear ROI.
We’ve missed Mick Fanning on the back end of the tour this year, as he took some personal time off. You’ll be relieved to know that despite his appearances around the world without a jersey, his bank account was still topped up nicely each month by his sponsors. His major deal with Rip Curl nets him around $1.5m a year, he has a very solid energy drink deal and is lucky to have varied ancillary sponsors that return him around three-quarters of a million a year.
What you don’t know about Mick is this: he is the list’s most philanthropic. Despite it being kept from the public eye, Mick is very generous, and his financial assistance is far-reaching across the world. He is very quiet about his efforts, but he supported a family in South Africa for a very long time.
Balter Beer isn’t noted as a sponsor because that’s an investment into his own brand and this will take some time before it’s putting money back in Mick’s pockets rather than taking cash out of it.
Sponsors: Rip Curl, Red Bull, Skullcandy, FCS, Dragon, Reef, DHD, Creatures of Leisure, Audi. Prize money: $162k Total earnings: circa $2.8m
This is the blueprint for hustle. Red Bull own the hat and nose, Hurley a little further south and four Target stickers featured somewhere on the board in one of the most impressive deals ever crafted. Five years ago he was taunted for being a hipster. Now he sits easily inside the top five like he’s always been there.
PHOTOGRAPHY RICHARD FREEMAN
5. Kolohe Andino
A small round of applause is due for the management of Kolohe Andino, who put together a string of long-term deals when the surf industry sun was shining bright. As clouds began to appear, Kolohe still had nine years left on his 10-year deal with Nike which later transferred to Hurley. Like most marquee sponsors, the big money is focussed on contest performance. Kolohe’s base salary sat around $1m for the 1- years but another genius part of Kolohe’s management meant that the prime real estate of the nose isn't owned by Hurley, but rather, Red Bull. And, remember what we said about the hat earlier? Yup, Red Bull paid for the hat as well. That meant Kolohe was copping major apparel-type money for his energy drink sponsor, north of $500k a year with major performance bonuses as well. And, the final masterstroke of this deal was aligning with Target. Many people have struggled to get their head around this deal but it’s quite simple: it’s essentially a surf shop sponsor. No product sponsor per se, but Kolohe acts as an ambassador. But, a wildly super-sized surf shop sponsor that means four stickers on the board in total and around $400k a year. Along with Carissa Moore, who also rides for Target, their contracts with surfers will not be renewed in 2017.
Sponsors: Hurley, Red Bull, Target, Oakley, Skullcandy, FCS, Neff and Mayhem. 2016 prize money: $208k Total earnings: circa $2.6m
Julian on last year’s Stab in the Dark in Western Australia. What makes Jules so valuable – besides being a clotheshorse who makes product just look… better – is his ability to ride any kind of wave. His surfing and make-rate on this Stab In The Dark trip in sub-par conditions was some of the best surfing we’d ever witnessed.
PHOTOGRAPHY JIMMY LEES
6. Julian Wilson
Julian Wilson is the guy who ticks all the boxes for marketing managers. He’s a former Pipe Master whose repertoire (and skin) is flawless. He has the model girlfriend, doesn’t have a weakness in his surfing and is liked by females in equal dose as males. He sits in that old cliché of guys wanna be him, girls wanna be with him. For this reason, he’s always been a serious moneymaker – and for a long time. Jules is a slightly older Australian version of Kolohe Andino – a prodigy who had the future world champion conversation spurring before he hit the tour. Based off raw talent, he should never fall short of the top 10 finish on the world tour. He's a company's golden boy, he's got the looks, the skill, the girl and serves as a complement to whatever surrounds him. He also somehow manages to avoid criticism and drama. He remains in the limelight without negative press, which makes him a solid investment. His life is so good and all he's missing is a world title which may, like Taj Burrow, forever evade him.
Sponsors: Hurley, Red Bull, Oakley, JS, FCS, Sunbum. Prize money: $183k Total earnings: circa $2.3m
Weaved into his deal that includes moving his (entire) extended family to a new home in a foreign land, Filipe Toledo now calls San Clemente home. Interestingly, six of the world’s 10 rich listers reside in San Clemente or the Gold Coast.
PHOTOGRAPHY HENRIQUE PENGIUM
7. Filipe Toledo
Filipe reaped the rewards of a brilliantly-surfed 2015, where he took three world tour victories and finished fourth on the CT. A lot of world tour surfers, especially from the Hurley camp, are paid the following year for what they achieved the year prior. Filipe was paid for finishing fourth in the world in 2016 and next year he’ll earn a salary based on his 10th-place finish this year. Filipe's base contract has him below $500k but with a good finishing inside the top five, like 2015, he can double that amount. When it comes to sponsors though, it’s not always about the take-home pay and deals come with incentives that aren't always distinguished. How do you put a financial value on two Jeeps a year, like what’s written into Filipe’s contract with the car company? Or, having a new Jeep waiting for him drive at every stop on tour? Or having a house and immigration organised for you and your family in the pro surfing capital of the world, San Clemente? As an aside: Three of the 10 big earners on this list all call San Clemente home.
At 21, Filipe is youngest on the list but as his big wave game and his world tour position continue to climb, so will his income.
Sponsors: Hurley/Nike, Monster, Oi, GoPro, Oakley, Jeep, Sharp Eye, Sunbum, Stance Prize money: $138,500 Total earnings: circa $1.6m
You can’t talk about Steph Gilmore without mentioning her style. Whether it's on a clean wall in Mex, pairing a white one-piece with a single fin in Fiji or in a Los Angeles bar pulling off her own version of surf style in ripped-up denim shorts, rock tee and Cons, Steph always puts it together.
PHOTOGRAPHY SHOT FOR ROXY X COURRÈGES COLLECTION
8. Steph Gilmore
Oh, Steph! The five-time world champ dazzled us again when she won the Pipe Invitational, but prior to that contest victories were in her rear-view mirror. Regardless, she was meant to stand gracefully on a surfboard and because of this, she’s the world’s biggest female surf earner.
Back in 2014, Steph made Business Review Weekly’s Top 50 earners in Australian sport at $1.75m, where she was the highest paid female athlete in the country. Interestingly, Steph is from Snapper Rocks, where two more of the top 10 earners list also reside: Jack Freestone and Mick Fanning.
Sponsors: Roxy, Nikon, Sanitarium, Ford, DHD surfboards. Prize money: $130k Total earnings: circa $1.4m
A few years back, Stab flew a troupe of photogs and stylists to Hawaii to do one of our sexy pro surfer shoots with Riss. The results were amazing and we were excited to show the world. She later hit us and said she wasn’t feeling it. She iced the shoot because she wanted people to remember her for her surfing. We rated her conviction.
9. Carissa Moore
Carissa Moore was always going to be a superstar. When she finished second in the 2007 Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast as a 14-year-old wildcard, there was only one way she was headed: Up. When Nike entered the world of surf, she was the female face of the brand along with males Julian Wilson and Kolohe Andino. When Nike shifted focus from surf and transferred its surf team to Hurley, Riss moved seamlessly as well. While Riss represented everything that performance-focused Nike was looking for, within a few months, Riss made Hurley look like a place she’d always been. She took Hurley to the podium and despite the size and budget of their team, she was their only world champ until John John joined that club in November.
Riss’ deals are very similar to Kolohe’s but on a slightly smaller scale. Both share the same surfboard sponsor (Mayhem), Red Bull owns the nose of the surfboard along with headwear and the Hurley sticker features down the board a touch. Also similar to Kolohe, Riss rides for Target for another week until their deals expire on December 31.
At 24, she already holds three world titles, but you just know that under the nice-girl demeanour she has her sights set on breaking Steph’s five and then Layne’s seven title record.
Sponsors: Hurley, Red Bull, Target, Mayhem Prize money: $230k Total earnings: circa $1.12m
The new sound of Coolangatta on the world tour. Jack Freestone is very different to Mick and Joel but he’s the contemporary version of the GC world tour surfer. We expect big moves in 2017.
PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN RESPONDEK
10. Jack Freestone
When Jack Freestone negotiated his 2016 package with his major sponsor, Billabong, no one expected that he’d only win seven heats and almost fall off tour. Jack was hitting the world tour with big expectations and dragged cash from the contracts of Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson. But, rookie years are never easy and Jack is one of a long list of much-hyped surfers before hitting the tour. 2017 will certainly see him find the form lots have predicted. On the sponsor front, he banks not quite three-quarters of a million from his major sponsor, Billabong. He forfeits income from Epokhe and Villager, since he takes small stakes in each brand. Along with a group of surfers and skaters, Jack left Rockstar to join the coconut water start-up Villager this year, along with his girl Alana Blanchard.
Sponsors: Billabong, Epohke, SDS, Futures, Nixon, Modom, Villager. Prize money: $125k Total earnings: circa $1m
Please note all figures are earnings before tax, manager’s commission, travel, coaches, trainers, accountants, lawyers and many other various expenses.
World tour surfer’s earnings far surpass the earnings of freesurfers or big-wave surfers…
…however, Stab’s prediction is that we’ll see all-round water dude Kai Lenny make the Rich List in 2017, or at very worst, 2018. He transcends surfing disciplines and is one of the most unique and sought-after gents in surfing right now.
Female world champ Tyler Wright earned almost as much prize money as John Florence ($400,500 to Tyler compared to John’s $406k) and the same $150k WSL World Title bonus as John, however, Tyler fails to make this year’s Rich List due to sponsorship income.
Dane Reynolds fell from the Rich List this year, as did Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson.
Surfers holding stock in St Archer who were acquired by MillerCoors were excluded from this list because the transaction occurred in September 2015, despite them receiving their payouts in 2016. Laura Enever, Taylor Knox and Dusty Payne all received significant income boosts this year that means they’d likely make the list. However, it was on-paper earning for 2015 and was left out.
*Kelly Slater’s income is a more difficult one to understand and despite making assumptions that his earnings would have him finish well within the cutoff of this list, he’s been omitted due to a lack of transparency. This year he made income from GoPro, Chia Seeds, PB Teen and of course, prize money of $231k, but along with still chasing world titles and contest victories, he’s remained on his entrepreneurial mission to create sustainable businesses. However, we all know he no longer has Quiksilver or Channel Islands cheques coming in. He has recently acquired a surfboard company (Firewire), started a clothing brand with fashion giant Kering (OuterKnown), started an energy drink company (Purps), designed the world’s most perfect artificial wave (KS Wave Co) and is even rumoured to have equity in the WSL.