WORDS BY BRANDON KERR / PHOTO BY ORION OWENS
Before I spew into this I want to make it clear that firstly, I am not a professional kiteboarder. And secondly I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the pros, ex-pros, and anyone who has made an honest attempt at getting there.
The number of pro kiteboarders on Instagram these days is outrageous. Every day I see another kid with “Pro Kiteboarder, @kitebrand @AccessoryBrand,” in their Instagram bio. The truth is, there are very few real professional kiteboarders. As a community, kiteboarding currently has a very loose understanding of the word pro. I’m not sure if there once was a time people used the term correctly and we lost it, or if the establishment was never there to begin with. But I am sure the competitive social media culture, where people will go to great lengths to get another like or follower, does not help.
Here is a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Professional: (Of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime: “a professional boxer”
Synonyms: paid, salaried
The important parts here are, “main paid occupation,” and synonyms, “paid” and “salaried.” Using this definition, you are not a professional kiteboarder if you make your money waiting tables at a restaurant and make kite videos in your free time. You are not a professional kiteboarder if you’re in high school and make more in allowance than you do from kiteboarding. You are not a professional kiteboarder if you make your income selling kites, you’re a professional kite salesmen or sales representative. A pro kiteboarder makes their money by getting paid to kite. Professionals sacrifice a ton, both on the physical side and with their life choices. Many choose to pass up a job, a relationship or an extended education to reach a level of riding where they can make kiteboarding their main occupation. And sometimes it is short lived; injuries or finances can bring the dream job to a halt. But I think most pro kiteboarders, or pro hopefuls will tell you, it’s not about the money. It’s about the experiences and the community. To be a professional kiteboarder says a lot about a person, so please don’t claim it if you’re not there yet.
So what can you claim if you fall anywhere short of this level? Well you could be anything from a competitive kiteboarder to a sponsored team rider. But how do you tell what level, how sponsored, how close to being a pro kiteboarder you are? I called up a few friends in the ski industry to help me lay out some proper definitions of riding levels and sponsorships.
Sponsored: A brand or shop endorses you. This can be with free product or services, or price cuts on gear.
Photo/Video Incentive: A brand or shop rewards you with cash or credit for appearances in relevant magazines or videos.
Travel Budget: A brand or shop helps with travel expenses. This can be done a number of different ways and on different levels.
Team Rider: You belong to a team along with other athletes that the brand or shop supports and uses to advertise with under a certain scope. In kiteboarding these teams are often categorized as regional, national, international and in some cases global. Each brand will decide what kind of sponsorship accompanies what team and it can also vary across individuals on the team.
Homie Hook Up: You are getting a price cut on your gear or services. This is often the first step to becoming a team rider.
Flow: You get your gear for free, and return it at the end of the year for another set. The brand usually takes your gear and sells it or redistributes it themselves. Other versions of this are getting your gear for free under the condition that at the end of the year you will sell the gear and pay a certain dollar amount back to the brand. Other incentives like photo/video incentive or a travel budget can accompany this.
Amateur (Am): A brand gives you a set or multiple sets of gear to use for the year on the assumption that you will sell what is left at the end of the year and use the profit to further your pursuit of kiteboarding. Oftentimes the brand will promote you as a team rider via media and advertisement. Frequently accompanied by a travel budget, photo/video incentive or small paychecks.
You receive a regular paycheck or salary to support your lifestyle as a rider. Pro model gear (gear with rider’s name or logo) can accompany this level of sponsorship. It is important to note that each step comes with a set of responsibilities and expectations from your sponsor. Also notable is this is not the only stairway to heaven; you can hop on at any step or skip certain steps on your path. In the case of an underexposed rider such as Carlos “The Freak” Mario, it could only take one contest to shoot you to the top.
So what now, you may wonder? If I can’t claim to be a professional, how will I get people to follow me, or how will I impress the chicks? Well I think we should all be more focused on our riding and producing legit content or getting results in contests. If you want to brag, write in your description that you are the first place winner in your local contest, or that you are a Triple-S invitee, or that you are a team rider for a certain brand. Please don’t write “professional kiteboarder.” Unless you really are.