Tom Butler rejects Nazare Challenge invite
In an expansive Instagram post, UK big wave surfer Tom Butler has underscored the World Surf League's athlete problem.
As the surf industry has collapsed, in part cannibalised by the Wozzle's own media grab, there's less coin to fund pro surfers, with big wave surfers some of the first to fall. Those who remain must cobble together a living from second and third-rate sponsors, and hope prizemoney and appearance fees can supplement them.
When even appearance fees are wiped then the pathway looks very shaky indeed.
Big winter swells are here and I’m being asked what my plans are for the season ahead. Right now I’m not planning to chase any swells abroad and have decided to decline my invite for the Nazare event. I’m taking a needed break from chasing Europe’s biggest storms. Aged 31, I’m completely content with my achievements but kind of burnt out from trying to monetise my sport.
Being a professional athlete can be a very selfish pursuit to reach to a high level. Big wave surfing is a contact sport with consequences, there is no getting around that. So pre-season, life-long preparation is essential to be comfortable in the mix and stand a chance on the biggest days. With a young son my energy and time has to go to my family right now. Stripping back the pressure of being ready to perform in big waves and simplifying my life, working on goals closer to home has made me really happy these last six months. Of course having Ziggy to squeeze on the regular makes me so happy it feels like I’ve dropped down a 60 ft wave most days.
Fact is, not that many big wave surfers globally are getting close to the level of financial backing needed to keep our sport safe. For me, more time has been spent behind a laptop screen than actually surfing. Commercialising myself as an athlete took all the fun out of what I was doing.
When you commit to a sport like big wave surfing and make the sacrifices and investment that are needed, you hope you can win titles and receive the recognition your performance deserves, not speaking just for myself I feel a lot of the surfers who have entered the @wsl awards and big wave comps feel the same. To make the sport even happen though some wild calls are made that probably are wrong decisions but probably the right decision in a business sense, most of the time at the expense of the athletes.
Take last years Nazare challenge, event staff completely pulled the wool over the athletes eyes. They said, “This year let's work together and build this event into something huge and profitable for all involved,” then to have @redbull as a headline sponsor and to keep it quiet until the competition day. Collecting my rash vest from a Red Bull counter but not being paid an appearance fee that reflects Red Bull’s financial status doesn’t sit right with me when there is so much on the line. When you have the contest director apologise to all surfers after the event, saying, “sorry for the way the webcast and post event coverage came out” you know you're in a shitty political event.
When you look at all the injustice in the world it’s pathetic me even thinking like this, but hope some of my words get across to the people involved in running these events so the surfers involved and next generation have a more exciting equal platform.
I’m frothing to watch the swells unfold over the next few days. All the big wave spots in Europe will be firing and I hope all the big wave community have a safe, successful season and keep chasing your dreams and them moments that make you feel most alive.
Thank you to everyone who helped me in some way over the last ten years, I’m forever greateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the memories and friendships I've made along the way. Ending a chapter feels as exciting as starting a new one.