SUP: Can I become a professional stand up paddle boarder in the UK?

As paddler abilities from across all stand up spectrum’s increase it’s only a matter of time before those with talent, drive, commitment and natural ability starting asking the question: ‘Can I turn pro?’ But what does pro actually mean with regards to UK stand up? And if you’re suddenly offered an opportunity what level of commitment is actually needed?

SUP start line

Pic: Mistral SUP UK


Firstly let’s address the elephant in the room. The term ‘professional athlete’ means one thing: your chosen sport is your job and you get paid a salary (sometimes by multiple endorsees, granted) and this is your day to day employment. Think Lewis Hamilton – professional F1 driver – or Tiger Woods – professional golfer.

That said there are still levels of support on offer for those looking to cement a status for themselves within UK SUP. Chances are, however, you won’t be giving up your day job anytime soon. Stand up paddle boarding is still a niche discipline – to become fully paid up pro (in the purest sense of the term) in the UK is nigh on impossible. But never say never, as the situation is changing and if you glance at our paddling brethren across the pond it’s noticeable there are opportunities – for the truly talented and/or hardworking that is.

UK SUP racing

Pic: Starboard SUP UK

So what support is available?

Anyone with an affiliation to a stand up paddle brand in the UK is usually a team rider. Team rider status essentially means the paddler in question gets support and help with equipment costs to enter and compete in events – be that race, surf or other. (There’s no such thing as free gear – even those perceived to have achieved this are delivering something in return). In the UK it’s usually racing and there’s an expectation to attend a number of comps each season and in some cases make the podium.

As yet, there are only a handful of SUP surf events that happen each year. In time this could change and there be more opportunity for budding wave riders to concentrate solely on their chosen discipline. We may even see other areas of SUP competition grow and team rider opportunities bloom in tandem.

Fanatic UK

Pic: JSUP (Fanatic UK)

What other stuff will I need to do?

The fact is: being a team rider means you’re a small cog in a bigger marketing machine. Sure, you may get to use spangly new SUP equipment each season, but be under no illusions about the job you’re supposed to concentrating on. Promoting your supporter (or supporters) and their products and/or services, at any given opportunity, is key to being worth your weight in gold.

Everybody these days is familiar with social media and it’s never been easier to provide exposure for brands who support riders. It can be as simple as snapping a pic on your smartphone at the start line and then @ tagging them – or at least have a friend or family member do this for you. There’s actually no excuse to not be ‘pimping your ride’ so to speak – certainly across personal streams that is. Beware of overpopulating social media groups/pages with your content, however, as this is spammy, and nobody will thank you for it. It’s also worth considering varied content and ways to give exposure – getting creative can be rewarding in itself.

Sam Ross SUP

Pic: Sam Ross SUP

Some brands may also want you to be available for demos and events. It’s worth keeping in mind these can cut into personal time, such as weekends. A reasonable request would be for one or two of these gatherings per season. If you’re looking to secure a sponsor then this needs to be factored into the equation.

For those with a big enough following, mainly in terms of social media (and/or if the paddler in question has a high traffic blog or website), then the deal may simply be for exposure. This is pretty rare but in this instance you’ll be required to provide content, such as vids, pics, magazine articles and blog posts, featuring your supporters and their equipment. For anyone able to provide real value in this area there may be financial compensation on offer as well – although a full time salary will still be hard to come by.

Ryan James

Pic: Ryan James

What if I want to make SUP my career?

There’s really only one way to make stand up paddling your career and that’s work in the industry. We have a large pool of SUP brands in the UK and all require individuals to drive these businesses forward. Be under no illusions: this isn’t a way to get more water time. In fact, you could find yourself in the office (or out on the road) with still little amounts of brine time. After all, this is a job, not a holiday.

Working within SUP can also be a hard task. Employment opportunities are few and far between with ‘right place, right time’ being the mantra to live by. For anyone determined to eke out a living from stand up then it’s a case of making friends with the right people and putting your hand up frequently – so to speak. You may even have to do some work for free at first. Simply waiting for ‘something’ to happen won’t pay dividends. Being pro-active, approachable and getting your face known, without being a pain, is the way forward.

Marie Buchanan

Pic: Marie Buchanan

As far as turning properly professional goes we’re not there yet in the UK but in time stand up paddle boarding could provide opportunities akin to more mainstream sports like tennis, football and cricket.

But for now it’s important to not lose sight of why you paddle. Fun’s the name of the game and if you get too caught up with ‘making it’ then you’ll lose that feeling of what makes SUP special – the whole reason to swing a blade in the first place.



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