Damage Control: Daniel Cortez, Surf Manager To The Stars
You can’t touch a top pro surfer these days. Can’t get anywhere near them without working with their management team first. One such surfer is Yago Dora, who has one of the most sophisticated management teams out there. Led by Daniel Cortez, team Yago is a well-oiled machine that has even driven Jack Robinson to join up for their specialised training approach.
Here, in a stream of consciousness, Cortez opens up about how essential good management is to a successful pro career in the modern era.
“A professional surfer is in a different position today. It’s not just how well you surf, it’s how well you show the world you can surf. And no surfer can do that alone. Not anymore. Not with all the social media and the internet at his disposal. It’s a separate full-time job. Being a modern pro surfer is about the right exposure to the world. I am not saying you don’t have to be a world-class talent. Of course you must be one of the very best in the world. And so management is about balancing the life of your athlete, and when I say athlete, I mean it. I chose Yago because he is a real athlete. He gets to sleep early, wakes up earlier, eats good, trains all day, and not just in the water. Serious training sessions in the gym. Everyday. This is what it takes and this is what a good manager is looking for. Commitment. The commitment Yago has shown coming back from his terrible foot injury is incredible. That usually takes a year. He has done it in half that time. Especially coming back from the Lisfranc injury. So that commitment is one of the keys. It is super important to have a shared vision. The whole management team must want to become a world championship team. And Yago has that team driving him toward this goal.
"My job is team leader. I take care of all the contracts, make sure they pay up. I make the deals. And I will say right now the whole team gets paid. No guilt there. It’s a hard job. It keeps you away from family for long periods, all the travel…but the job of a good manager is managing all the sponsor's relations, the branding awareness, monitoring and controlling the media and the team message. Keeping everything in control and on track. This is my job. And also organising Yago’s day to day life. His daily itinerary: his meetings, his surfs, picking the right spot to go surfing that day, organising the video and the photos and the media coverage, monitoring Yago’s physical health and medical check-ups and even his mental health if he needs it. I have seen as a manager that daily meditation sessions really helps keep your athlete in the zone and happy.
"I also mobilise and keep the team onboard. I find the right support in every country we go to: gyms, restaurants, waves, photographers, all the travel arrangements, accommodation. I also deal with any bureaucracy - governments and visas are a big part of that too. All this world travel is like a puzzle that you must figure out and be right every time. That part of my job is to organise the details so that Yago’s mind is free to do what he has to do to fulfill his destiny. To surf and train and focus. His focus is part of all of us.
"Also, as a manager you must never lose sight of the human side of things. It is not just about titles and money. You must keep a close connection with the surfer and his needs and desires and goals. Because you get so busy with the details that you have to remember why you are doing it and, most importantly, who you are doing it for. This is a human being you are managing. An athlete, yes, but not a machine. You must keep the business of management very personal and keep that person close or all the goals will be lost. It is not a job for just anyone. It is a 24 hour a day job and it takes a business family. We have a manager, a nutritionist, a trainer, a coach, and a full time videographer for social media, sponsor commitments, athlete visualisation and performance analysis. That is the minimum professional team for these days on the tour.
"Remember, Leandro Dora, Yago’s father, is a Brazilian surf legend. And he is the coach. And he is doing such a good job that Jack Robinson approached us for training and Leandro took him on. So, Jack Robinson…after Jack started working with Leandro, we were super excited because Jack saw how far Yago was coming along so Jack approached us for coaching. And this is so good for Yago too because the exchange of information and influence is almost like having a third pro surfer in the room. So much powerful energy. And Jack and Yago really push each other’s limits in waves of consequence. That is another key to management. Having your man around the right people, the right influences and the right waves.
"That is why our latest trip to Indonesia was super important because of Yago’s wildcard seed into the G-Land event. Our plan was to place high in that contest…but coming back from the injury…look, no excuses, and it was good to get a work out and be under pressure again. Indonesia and its waves are super important for any pro surfer’s style and technique. As a manager, I make sure Yago gets plenty of Indonesia.
"I think being a manager is all about paying attention and really taking it seriously. Everyday. Paying attention - it’s the key. Putting your attention into it. And even my affection, even my love for an athlete and my love for surfing. Without that passion, it all becomes meaningless. I think good management involves a very personal, loving and caring relationship with whoever you are helping realise their goals. And it is important to be a hardcore surfer yourself, too. And I am. That way you can relate and connect so much better. As a part of this team, I am like a drummer in a rock band, keeping the rhythm, the beat on track.
"We will fight for the world title. Yago has the potential and the vision. He is an excellent tuberider, he is one of the best aerialists in the world and he pulls different lines with a different style. He has the skills, no doubt in my mind.
"And also I think as a manager you must be very proud of your home country. For me it is not just the Brazilian Storm, but the Brazilian cause. We were among the first to organise professional teams like this. Like F1. We do not try to separate or even call it management. We are a team effort. When Yago wins. We all win and he always lets us know this. This is the right vibe. This is success. Unstoppable. A big team all charging toward one goal. Keeping the team together. And making sure that Yago Dora becomes the best in the world.
"My advice to someone that wants to become a manager?
"When it comes to managing a surfer, without that thought in your mind of being the best, without that belief and focus…don’t even try it, because you will fail everybody. Most of all yourself."
// DANIEL CORTEZ (as spoken to MATT GEORGE)