One of the most common things serious wakeboarders think about is getting sponsored. Is it necessary to be sponsored? No, it's not necessary, and sometimes it can take the fun out of things. However, many people love the sport so much that they'd love to promote companies while also getting deals on products, free products, or actually getting paid to wakeboard for a living. But how do you go about getting sponsored? What do sponsors look for in potential riders? What different levels of sponsorships are there? These are all questions you need to know the answers for before you attempt to get sponsored.
The first thing that a rider needs to understand is that there are different levels of sponsorships.
Levels of Sponsorship
The first level of sponsorship is being a "shop rider". In this case, you are sponsored by your local board shop 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 a company-level sponsorship.
The next level of sponsorship is a "regional team rider". In this case, you're regionally sponsored by a company and primarily work with the company's local rep in your region. You represent the company's "team" and basically help out the local rep at competitions, demos, and clinics. Some companies would call this a "B" or "C" team rider. Their "A" team is considered their national pro team. Being a "regional team rider" usually entitles a rider to discounts on the company's products as well as usually getting a free board for the season, or a free year's worth of products. It's possible that you'd have photo or contest incentives, but not that likely.
On an equivalent level to the "regional 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 leads to discounts and/or free gear, as well as commission for sales to shops. This is more common for older riders, or people looking to break into a job in the wakeboarding industry.
The next level of sponsorship is being a "contract" or "low-level pro" rider. Usually this means that you're on a company's pro team under a contract. This contract usually entitles the rider to free gear, as well as contest and photo incentives. An example of an incentive would be something like a $200 cash bonus for winning a competition or getting a picture in a magazine. A rider of this level probably travels around the country to some extent competing or promoting, does product testing for the company, they might be included in the company's ads, maybe appear in a video, etc. There are also other obligations that a contracted rider must meet, such as filming for videos, working at boat shows, or personal appearance and signing autographs at events.
The final level is being what most people think of as a "pro rider". These are guys like Shaun Murray, Darin Shapiro, Scott Byerly, Emily Copeland, Dallas Friday, Danny Harf, Parks Bonifay, etc. This level of sponsorship is only given to the riders who are winning the biggest events, appearing in the big videos, and are all over the magazines. These riders usually have complicated contracts, lots of obligations, and wakeboarding is their full-time job. They are paid salaries, commissions on their pro model boards that sell, as well as incentives for contest and photo results. This type of sponsorship is obviously the hardest to obtain and maintain.
How Do I Get Sponsored?
The most common misconception that riders have is that they think that one has to have a certain number of inverts or spins to qualify for a sponsorship. This is not true at all. Obviously, being a great riders is very helpful and important in gaining a sponsorship. Especially if you want to reach the high levels of sponsorship where you'd 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 wakeboarding and you're ability to promote the shop or company in your local area. Nobody wants to sponsor a jerk who is full of themselves and their wakeboarding skills, so don't be that person. Be nice to others, modest, complimentary, and truly try to get others excited about wakeboarding and you'll be 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 boat shows? Drive the boat or judge at local competitions? Do local clinics to teach others to ride in a positive way? Do you put together 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 with the same two people at their home lake all the time. They want to sponsor a rider who is out there in the public eye promoting their produts in a positive manner.
If you have a great attitude and can promote well, you can probably get sponsored without even being that good of a rider. However, if you want to get past the shop sponsor or rider/rep levels, you'll need to have some advanced skill and ability to go along with your great attitude and promotional talents. There are no rules on what tricks you should learn or how many you need. The best advice we can give you is to just focus on doing your tricks with a unique style, going big, riding smooth, and having lots of tricks you can do well, and the harder the better.
How To Get Noticed
Okay, so you have a great attitude and you're starting to ride pretty well. How do you go about getting noticed? The following are possibilities on how you can catch the eye of sponsors, but don't be too aggressive. Nobody likes people that are too pushy, but the more of these methods you try, the better your chances for sponsorship.
Get in good with your local board shop. Try getting a job at your local shop, or taking employees of the shop out riding, or becoming friends with them. This will allow you to meet the regional company reps that sell to your local shop, you'll meet other good riders in your area, get to know what's going on in the scene, etc. This is also how you'd work your way into a local shop sponsorship.
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, drive the boat, manage the dock, announce, and do other things at a competition. You can usually ride in your division and help out in other ways. Shops and companies appreciate that hard work.
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 company reps to participate in your event, and they'll get to know you and what you can do for them.
Try finding out who your local reps are through your shop or by calling the companies, and try to set up a meeting with them, or offer to take them riding. Reps are very busy, but they might be interested in hearing more about you and taking up your invitation to go riding the next time they're in your area.
Meet riders who are already sponsored. Sponsored riders usually have connections, so it's good to meet these people and start riding with them.
Promote yourself on the internet. There are web sites such as this one and others where you can post pictures of yourself, videos, participate on message boards, write articles, write trick tips, and do other things to get your name out there.
Send a video and rider resume to companies you're interested in. Make a rider resume similar to a job resume that lists information about you, your contest results, tricks you can do, how you feel about wakeboarding, and how you can promote that particular company. Also include a video of your riding. Companies prefer to see an unedited video that's about 10 minutes in length so they can see your riding as if they were in the boat with you. An edited "highlight" video won't give them a true sense of how you ride, how often you fall, how you link tricks, etc. After you send this video and resume in, call or e-mail the company a couple of weeks later to check to see if someone watched it and if they have any thoughts. Address the video and resume to the "team manager" at the company.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of good wakeboarders out there who deserve to be sponsored, but there aren't that many companies offering sponsorships. So don't expect a 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 at new companies or companies that aren't very big. These are the ones most likely to have openings on their teams. It's hard to just get a sponsorship from Hyperlite or Liquid Force right away. Usually riders have to get sponsored by their shop, then a clothing or accessory company, a smaller board company, and keep moving up the sponsorship chain. Treat everyone you deal with kindly and with respect, you never know who's going to be working where in the future.