The biggest surf deal of all time is done.
As of reporting today, John Florence no longer rides for Hurley, after first signing with the brand in January of 2013. Just like that, surfing’s biggest ever deal—an eight-year $30million resigning package—is dust.
Over the weekend we heard from industry insiders on why professional surfers industry-wide can expect a “Best Case Scenario” 50% cut in marquee sponsors contracts. Realistically, it will be more like 70%. A total reset. A full recalibration of professional surfing’s economics, from top-down.
Bolstered financially for the past 18 years under Nike’s ownership, Hurley maintained the most expensive surf team the world’s ever seen, on both men’s and women’s side, including the highest-paid surfer in the history of the sport, John John Florence.
Up until this point all eyes have been on John Florence and his next move: he appeared at Pipe yesterday without stickers.
At 9:01am, on Thursday January 2 every surfer on Hurley’s team with anything even remotely like a Termination Clause in their contracts received emails from Bluestar Alliance’s lawyers letting them know their relationship was over:
“I surfed for the brand for 15 years, I would have expected a note to come from someone who I worked with or cared about me, not their lawyers,” said one former Hurley surfer.
The first round of cuts dropped A-Listers like Carissa Moore, Rob Machado, Michel Bourez, as well as the Stab Junior Surfer of the Year, seventeen-year-old Eli Hanneman.
Immediately, the lawyers began combing contracts, coming across one of the most glaring potential breaches Bluestar had in the crosshairs: Hurley’s Olympic athletes, and the Olympic’s forbidding endorsement logos on equipment.
Last year surf brand’s learned that, unless a surfer’s board was made publically available six-months prior to the event, complete with glassed-in sponsors logos, that surfers would be forced to ride logoless boards.
Hurley could have made these moves fairly easily, as several surfers tell Stab they approached people within the brand about doing models with Pyzel, Mayhem, and Channel Islands to ensure the boards weren’t ridden blank, but to no avail.
If all indications are correct, come summer at least three of Hurley’s five Olympic athletes will have walked: Carissa. John. Michel. Gone.
Julian Wilson is the only Olympic surfer left who hasn’t pulled his stickers, and rumour has it he’s in talks with both Oakley and Lululemon currently.
Worth noting: Filipe Toledo is sitting in a decent place. Just last year, he secured a seemingly watertight five-year, $600k-a-year deal with Hurley and as the highest-rated Brazilian surfer not to qualify for the Olympics, he has no threat of contract breaching for riding a non-Hurley x Sharp Eye surfboard at the Games.
“Given the current climate, Filipe knows he’s probably getting paid more than he should,” says an industry insider. “He supports a big family, he’s gonna walk out every line of that contract to make sure he gets it all.”
Like most of the Hurley team with a contract still intact after Bluestar Alliances recent purchase of Hurley, most A-level surfers on the roster were offered a fraction of their multi-year deals to walk immediately: surfers were also permitted a 30-day window to go shopping for a new sponsor and to take the buyout offered.
Part of the deal: that surfers handle their business “professionally,” i.e. that they behave publicly as if it were an amicable split; and of course, a confidentiality gag on the whole arrangement.
Here’s where things get juicy.
Rumours abound that John was owed just shy of $12m and was offered a $2m payout to walk. Insiders have suggested that rather than hit the market trying to secure a new deal, John didn’t like the direction of the new entity and decided to walk.
Besides, as an industry insider we spoke to said: “No brand can turn around money like that on the spot.”
John’s next move will have ramifications that will be felt for a long time. As we reported over the weekend, for many within the industry “the hope is that John gets a deal from a mainstream brand, a non-endemic brand that serves as a buoy for all the high-level surfers,” says a 10-year Hurley vet. “Once that’s set, no one’s getting over that amount because no one connects like John John.”
In the past 20 years, there hasn’t been a top-of-the-food-chain surfer who has ventured beyond the surf industry (“non-endemic”, as industry pundits like to say) for a sponsor.
As the most marketable surfer in-the-space, whatever John decides to do will impact everyone below him. If he can’t connect non-endemically, no one else can.
Hypothetical Scenario A: If John signs with a Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo, Adidas or a hefty conglomerate, it means other surfers potentially have influence beyond the surfing sphere. It lifts the earning capacity of everyone beneath him and enables other surfers to look for support beyond the surf industry. It also means that a surf brand wants to nab a big-name talent, they have to compete with these other brands, thus lifting the salary ceiling across the board.
The risk here for John is an unreasonable list of duties or responsibilities but as our insider says is more likely, “John doesn’t want to deal with kooks. This is why you see him pulling stickers from his board already, because he doesn’t want to associate with the “new Hurley.”
Hypothetical Scenario B: If John wants to work with a brand that’s complementary to his personality (i.e. his perceived fear of judgment, and interest in Total Privacy). The appeal here to John is obvious: he is financially secure and lives life privately, why not do a deal that allows him that privacy with a brand that aligns with his values.
But those values do two-fifths of fuck all for surfers counting on his contract to bolster or justify their own.
If, for example, John does a five-year $500k to $1.5m a year, based on principle, or idealism or a sense of Personal Brand, or simply that he “doesn’t want to deal with kooks” —then that’s the limit for anyone.
As part of the 30-day shopping period offered by Bluestar Alliance, most surf brands are seeing resumes roll through the door from some of surfing’s most influential names. “It’s crazy the prices you can pick guys up for but we all have our strategies, we all have our plans we’re working to. Business is tight, none of us can turn around and say, “‘Here’s a check: Welcome to the team.”
While much of this is highly speculative, with dozens and dozens of sources chiming in from their respective vantage points, this is our attempt to make sense of the suddenly flooded market of top-shelf free agents, and what this means for professional surfers around the world feeling the bottom drop out beneath them.
This week, we’ll take a look at the Hurley team roster, and get a sense for what surfers who’ve suddenly found themselves on the market are experiencing. Either way, we are in unchartered territory. There will be more blank noses on top tier professional surfers than any other time in surfing history.