Fifteen years ago, retiring from the tour was the same as falling off the face of the earth, but what about now?
If you were lucky you might land a job with a sponsor, a team manager’s gig or something that at least kept you halfway in the loop, but for the most part it was welcome to the real world, baby, things are about to get rough. Not so anymore. Following on from yesterday’s article, which discussed the impending resignations of some of the tour’s biggest names, we examine how today’s surfers are finding more and more ways to stay relevant after they’ve hung up the jersey.
Take Taylor Knox for example. When he retired in 2012 at the ripe old age of forty-one, most people would’ve expected him to fade into obscurity, a name referenced in occasional discussions on cutbacks and nineties surf vids. But since then the iconic Californian has signed a contract with Reef and enjoyed a resurgence of sorts thanks to appearances in clips alongside fellow rail aficionados like Dane Reynolds and the Coffin brothers. And it’s been great for everyone—at forty-four TK gets paid to freesurf and feature in Reef’s Just Passing Through campaign, and those of us who grew up on his full-blooded power hacks and aren’t quite satisfied with one-hundred-and-one variations of the air reverse get to keep watching him. But that option didn’t always exist.
In a way he’s got fellow Momentum era alumni Rob Machado and Shane Dorian to thank. Both surfers have spoken openly about the lack of prospects that faced them when they finished up on tour in the early 2000s, which seems crazy now considering how popular they were at the time. But it goes to show how narrow the industry’s definition of a professional surfer was up until a short while ago. Luckily for them, and for those who’ve come since, things have changed quickly and both surfers have been able to have a bigger impact on the sport in the years since retiring than they ever did on tour. Can you imagine the last decade without Machado’s timeless freesurfing or Dorian’s paddle-in heroics at Mavericks and Jaws?
Whatever your opinions are of the new look WSL, there’s no doubt that their efforts to push the sport forward are creating jobs for the surfers of yesteryear. Love them or hate them, pretty much all of the commentary team (except Ron-dog Blakey and the ever-chirpy Joe Turpel) have come from pro surfer pasts, and both Kieran Perrow and Jessie Miley Dyer, who serve as commissioners for the men’s and women’s tours respectively, are former championship tour surfers. With Bede making a recent foray into the commentary booth and Ace Buchan already being earmarked as a possible ambassador for the sport, it’s unlikely the WSL will need to look beyond their own talent pool to fill any future positions.
With all the hype around Wilko at the moment, it’s hard not consider the important role coaches are playing among the world’s best. Glen Hall has already found himself a shitload more success as a coach than he ever did as a competitor, and other ex-pros like Brad Gerlach and Jake Paterson are also enjoying careers in the coaching arena. With the push for a world title becoming more competitive than ever, it won’t be long before every member of the top 32 (and women’s 16) has their own coach, and nobody imparts wisdom quite like those who’ve been there before.
The sport has grown considerably in recent years, and for all the crowded line-ups and diminishing soul, it’s nice to see that retiring from the tour no longer necessarily means vanishing into the abyss. Some surfers still have a lot to offer beyond the confines of a thirty-minute heat window, and it’ll be interesting to see what avenues they open up when their time comes to hang up the jersey.