“A lot of room for non-surf brands to make their mark in women’s surfing”
The latest instalment of our ‘Inside Track’ interview series sees caytoo speak to 21 year-old Currie, a rare breed in surfing in that she competes internationally in both the longboard and shortboard divisions for Team England. However, it’s no longer enough just to be good at your sport if you want to attract brands.
Currie explains why she’s looking for sponsorship beyond the surf industry and why the sport is a unique opportunity for mainstream brands to disrupt the way traditional surf brands tackle sponsorship.
caytoo: What’s your unique selling point?
Emily: I compete in both longboarding and shortboarding disciplines and represent my country in both, which is really unusual in surfing. I ranked 9th in the Longboard World Championships in China this year and am also the current English women’s Longboard Champion, 2nd on the UK Pro Surf Tour circuit for shortboarding and 2nd on the WSL Longboard European Tour.
caytoo: What experience do you have of working with sponsors and representing them as a brand ambassador?
Emily: I was with Gul Watersports, a UK-based company for five years and had a really good relationship with the manager. I’m now sponsored by Roxy and my contact there is Cornwall-based, so I go to their office regularly to catch up. Ben Skinner competed with me in China as a member of Team England and, as owner of Skindog Surfboards, he brought up the idea of sponsorship which has led to them supplying me with some great boards. I like having that good back-and-forth with sponsors, you get to know the brand and find shared values which helps you represent them.
“I like having that good back-and-forth with sponsors, you get to know the
brand and find shared values which helps you represent them”
Being bubbly has helped with media opportunities. I did a film feature with BBC News last year about surfing being included in the Olympics and one with ITV West Country in March about my hopes to get there as part of the Olympic squad. I’m lucky enough to be regularly featured in Carve and Surf Girl Magazines about competitions or the trips away I do. Recently, I also did a surf video called Emily with filmmaker, Ornella Hawthorn Gardez.
caytoo: How are you currently supported by sponsors?
Emily: I’m very lucky with equipment support with my current sponsors. Funding is a big issue, surfing is extremely expensive. Even travelling for competitions up to Scotland this time of year means time off work, money for fuel, a week of accommodation, it’s just everything. When you go abroad it’s exactly the same, but in addition you’re paying for flights.
I’d love to be able to go to more worldwide competitions. I’m qualified to compete in them but I struggle every year to fund it, hence why I need to work at a surf school over the summer five or six days a week. At least that means I still have my evenings and mornings to train and surf. One perk is that they’re flexible with allowing me time off to compete, so I’m now off competing on the circuits for the rest of the summer.
“I’d love to see what creativity mainstream brands
could bring to surfing sponsorships”
caytoo: Which brands are most relevant to you?
Emily: Something out of the box that isn’t a surf brand! Mainstream brands have the money to support athletes and I’d love the chance to build more professional relationships. Surfing is a sport that’s very chilled-out; untimeliness and flexibility can create an ambiguous environment. I would love to experience more outside of surfing and see what creativity mainstream brands could bring to surfing sponsorships. Understandably, a lot of people aren’t willing to part with their money so help is definitely needed for someone like me to reach out.
caytoo: Are there opportunities currently being missed in women’s surfing?
Emily: Absolutely, there’s a lot of room for non-surfing brands to make their mark in women’s surfing. There are outdated campaigns, the most usual being female athletes prancing around in bikinis that surf sponsors are traditionally very involved in. You go into a surf shop and the only pictures of girls are of them walking along a beach in a bikini, whereas all the guys are in wetsuits charging massive waves. Women’s surfing is on such a high at the moment and there are some really talented women out there. They should get that opportunity to show it, surely that would be a much better marketing hook?
“Traditional surfing campaigns are outdated –
female athletes prancing around in bikinis”
caytoo: Are female athletes who surf at a high level, but aren’t prepared to model in that way for sponsors, at a disadvantage if they refuse?
Emily: I don’t think it matters too much if you’re already on the World Surfing Tour. But there was a great article by Keala Kennelly, who’s now a big wave surfer, about when Billabong asked her to do bikini shots and she refused, they dropped her. She felt discriminated against by the surfing industry and that was also the same case with Silvana Lima. I don’t think they were given the same opportunities. That’s why sponsorships that aren’t with surfing brands would be better for women in surfing; the relationship would be totally different.
caytoo: Do you think surfing being used as a marketing vehicle by mainstream brands like Apple is beneficial to you as an athlete?
Emily: Absolutely, it’s fantastic that surfing is being used by bigger brands. However, I think they should then put the money back into surfing. If you’re going to use surfing for marketing, you should give back to the sport and its athletes. We need it and the investment would go a long way.
“If you’re going to use surfing for marketing, you
should give back to the sport and its athletes”
caytoo: How much support have you had with regards to the commercial side of your career? For example, building a brand image?
Emily: It’s been a case of simply winging it. I’ve had sporadic help here and there and I think I write good sponsorship letters. But it’s nerve wracking, especially at the beginning. I used to have such an issue with reaching out to brands, or worrying about not getting a response. But then I realised that at the end of the day, if you don’t ask these people then you’re never going to get anything. So I got a lot more confident with it and if I get a no, it’s not the end of the world. You just try again.
It’s with things such as navigating the politics behind image rights that athletes can also find tricky. I had a problem a few years back where my sponsor re-published some images of me rather than sharing the photographer’s copies and he wanted to take them to court. It all got really stressful and that’s not what you want. I always ask photographers now if I can use their images. If they say no, that’s fine and if they say yes, then fantastic.
“I used to have an issue with reaching out to brands. But then I
realised if you don’t ask, you’re never going to get anything”
caytoo: So what do you think you need to work on to make you more compelling to potential sponsors in the future?
Emily: Maybe to be a bit more ‘out there’. I don’t really market myself very well, mainly because I don’t know how too essentially.
caytoo: What upcoming opportunities do you have that brands could get involved with?
Emily: This August I’m driving to France for the 2018 Caraibos Lacanau Pro, then to Pantene for Europe’s biggest women’s competition, the Pantene Classic. It’s a World Surf League Qualifying event and some of the world tour surfers will be there. Any financial contribution to my travel costs for these international competitions would be really appreciated. We’re driving down and camping.
I’m also determined to qualify for the Great British Olympic team for Tokyo 2020. I’m just going to work hard and do everything I possibly can.
caytoo: Do you have any advice you could share with other athletes looking for sponsorship?
Emily: Just keep trying. For example, I approached Gul when I was 13 and they said no and then I approached them again when I was 15 and they said yes. It was five years of a really strong partnership. Keep going, it will come! And it’s worth remembering that sponsorship isn’t the be all and end all at a young age. It’s fantastic getting free stuff but until you need funding to live and train, it’s just fun you know.
“I try to have a realist’s view on the longevity of my surfing career.
It’s always important to have a back up plan”
caytoo: Have you started thinking about your post-surfing career?
Emily: I try to have a realist’s view on the longevity of my surfing career. I got good grades at school and I just want to enjoy it whilst it’s there and not really stress about anything. I’ve had a few jobs and everything will just work out the way it’s meant to. But for the moment I’ve got to concentrate on where I am.
caytoo: Is it more important for surfers in the UK to have a back up plan than those in other countries where the sport is more supported?
Emily: Unfortunately, surfing has quite a low retirement age, especially in England. We don’t have the waves, resources or sponsorship. It’s always important to have a back up plan. That’s why I stayed on at school. I know surfers who have just dropped out completely and then you don’t have any GCSE’s and it makes things a bit riskier for the future if things don’t go to plan.
caytoo: How do you think Olympic inclusion will change surfing for you?
Emily: I think from a sports funding point of view, it could be beneficial. Sport England doesn’t support you unless you can prove you have medal potential. That’s really tough because they’re sending athletes to countries to compete without helping them grow. If you can’t get support from your home nation, it’s a bit a sad. I’ve always loved sport and the Olympics were always my biggest dream, then when I started surfing that dream went down the drain. But now it’s set for inclusion, I have a real chance.
If you’re interested in sponsoring Emily, visit her profile to view her opportunities.
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