Why you shouldn’t pay retail…

If you’re reading this article, you rip. Why aren’t you sponsored yet? Nobody’s offered you free gear for being the only woman within 500 miles who can stick a forward? Of course they haven’t – that isn’t how the game works! If you don’t want to pay retail for your gear, you need to promote yourself. This doesn’t take a lot of effort, and the money you’ll save is well worth your time. Plus, you’ll get to meet a lot of interesting people in the windsurfing industry!

The art of finding sponsors.
And keeping them.
By Temira Wagonfeld
Tamira in action, photo: Anselm Pauls

Getting sponsored isn’t necessarily about being the best sailor. It is about being a visible, personable sailor. If you teach clinics, or just teach windsurfing, write articles, compete, or happen to be visible to other sailors for some reason, you are a candidate for sponsorship. Before you start looking for sponsors, there is something very important to keep in mind: Loyalty. Pick companies you will be loyal to. Have reasons for wanting to ride for these companies. (For example, I ride for DaKine and Nolimitz because they make great equipment, they listen to my suggestions, and they are based where I live; for Gath because they make the best helmets on the market; for Hot Sails because there is no better sail than the Superfreak, and the company is just plain cool; for Hawaiian Pro Line because their booms are the best, hands down, for Iwindsurf.com because a wind sensor network is the best idea since the clamp-on boom, etc.) Although it is possible to switch sponsors every year, you will quickly alienate people in the industry. A sponsor wants your loyalty – they want their potential customers, other sailors, to see you on the same equipment year after year. Although you may be able to get a better offer from another company, it is to your benefit to stick with the same companies for as long as you can. If you have a long-term relationship with your sponsor, you are unlikely to get cut from the team if cuts happen.

You may be able, after time passes, to negotiate a better deal for yourself. Do not be tempted to ditch your sponsors. They have agreed to support you, and they deserve your loyalty! Don’t ever badmouth your sponsors, and if you don’t like a particular year’s equipment, suffer through it, or try a different product from their line. There are a few ways to go about getting discounted gear. First, you can talk to your local shop. If you are a visible sailor, they will almost certainly be willing to give you a big price break, maybe even wholesale. The advantage to riding for a shop is that all the gear you need is in one place. Your second option is to talk to the local distributor/sales rep. This requires a little more work, as you must talk to each company individually. However, it is not hard to get sponsored by the rep/distributor, and the prices are better than your local shop can offer. Your third option is to try for the international team of your favorite company. To do this, you need to talk to the international sales divisions of your favorite companies. This takes a lot of work and doesn’t pay off unless you are outstanding. If you want to compete internationally, or already have a lot of shots in magazines, go for it! Riding on the international team is probably the only way you will get free gear and a salary.

Riding for your local shop

Your local shop knows you well. They’ve probably been waiting for you to ask for sponsorship! There are definite advantages to riding for your local shop. Because they know you and trust you, they will stand behind you if you have any problems (broken boards, broken bones). As long at the shop stays open, you will be their team rider. With other means of sponsorship, you may need to renegotiate every year. A shop sponsor should give you, at the least, cost plus ten percent on anything you want to buy. They may even sell you gear at their cost. Ask them to help you if you have warranty issues. Companies sometimes try and avoid replacing shop riders’ broken equipment. If you want to compete, ask the shop if they will loan you extra gear for competitions. Don’t be afraid to ask for these things. This is your local shop, and you want to support them, but you need their support too! Remember, it is to the shop’s advantage to have you on their gear. By riding the gear they sell, you are encouraging people to shop locally, rather than by mail-order. In return for support, you promote shop gear at the beach. Don’t neglect this – it is very important to generate sales for your shop – that is why they are supporting you! If you allow people to demo your personal gear, you get bonus points. You can thank the shop by teaching clinics with their support and by sending customers. When negotiating with shop owners, remember to emphasize how they will benefit from you riding their gear. As a ripping sailor, you are a role model, and people will look at you and your equipment when making purchasing decisions. Don’t feel guilty about asking for support from your local shop. It isn’t going to cost them one dime to give you wholesale prices on gear, and if you are a good shop rider, they’re going to get a lot out of you.

Riding for the distributor

The distributor/sales rep is a middleman between your shop and the international distributor of the gear you want. They can sell you gear for less than your local shop can. If you are really persuasive, the distributor may even give you loaner gear. Try asking for loaner gear first, but don’t be hurt if they say no. Loaner gear is rare. If you have to buy your gear, you are going to get a good price from the distributor. It probably won’t be cheap enough for you to sell it at a profit, but you’ll be able to sell it at the end of the season at a small loss. You’ll have brand new gear every season! If you rip, the local rep may already know about you, which saves you some work. If you live near the distribution center, the national rep may know who you are. Try to deal directly with the national distributor. If this isn’t possible, deal with the rep for your area. Your shop should be able to get you the relevant phone numbers. Try and get an introduction from a current team rider. If this isn’t possible, get your shop to call ahead and recommend you. If you have to mail your sponsorship proposal to the national distributor, make sure to call and follow up. Sales reps and distributors are busy, and they don’t want to waste time on you. If you make a minor nuisance of yourself (call, email, call, email), they will probably give in and give you what you want. However, don’t go overboard. If you don’t get a response within a couple of weeks, wait a few weeks and call again. Repeat this until you get a yes or no answer. Reps get very busy at certain times during the year, and you may have tried to contact them at one of these times.

When you meet with a distributor, bring a sponsorship proposal. This doesn’t have to be long, but if you can make it engaging (mine is a mini-magazine), you are more likely to amuse/win over the rep. Include photos, both on and off the water, some personal information (how long you’ve been sailing, etc), tell the company how much you like their gear, and tell them what you can do for them (i.e. make their gear more visible, because you rip!). Tell them your upcoming windsurfing plans (travel, competition, teaching clinics). Tell them why you are unique, and why you would bring visibility. Tell them why you are coming to them rather than to another company. Make it clear that you have a reason to be a long-term, loyal partner with them. This is very, very important. Ask them if they are willing to support you for the long term. I don’t include any specific requests in my proposal – it is just a promotional magazine.

After handing over your proposal, you get to ask for sponsorship. Ask for pro-deal prices and photo incentives. Photo incentives, unlike gear sales, cost the distributor money. They can be difficult to negotiate. Ask if the distributor will give you photo incentives in gear credit. A reasonable rate is $500 for a cover shot, $300 for a full-page inside shot, and fractions of that for smaller photos. Pro-deal gear prices will be some percentage below wholesale. For example, boards at wholesale will be about 50-60 percent of retail, depending on the brand. Clarify the warranty policy. Will they immediately replace your broken equipment with new? Will they make you wait for a ruling from the factory? Will they give you loaner equipment while you wait? Will they loan you extra gear if you want to compete? Remind them that competitions draw photographers, and that this is the most likely time for you to get a photo published. If someone takes your photo, you want to be riding your sponsor’s gear, not gear you borrowed from your neighbor.

Try to meet and befriend as many people as possible at the companies you ride for. If your main contact quits/is fired/dies, you won’t be unknown to their replacement. In addition, there is a lot of turnover in the windsurfing industry – people transfer from one company to another frequently. Someone you met at Company A might soon be the sales rep for that clothing company you always wanted to have as a sponsor! Finally, remember that the distributor is a big company. It doesn’t cost them anything to give you a great deal on equipment. If you are a visible sailor and a friendly person, they are going to support you. If they won’t, don’t be afraid to ask why not – you may be able to change things to get a yes at your next meeting.

Riding on the international team

You rip, and you want to compete in PWA events. Good luck! You are probably going to need some good finishes or several magazine photos to attempt this. It’s unfortunate, but it helps if you are cute and look good in a bikini. You’ve probably been riding for a shop or distributor at this point. Tell them you want to try for the international team. Ask your distributor whom to contact. Have them call and recommend you. Prepare an in-depth profile about yourself, complete with photos, windsurfing biography, personal biography, your plans for the future, and what makes you different from everyone else. Make a website (it’s not that hard, and it doesn’t have to be good, but having one shows you are serious) If you can talk about the company’s current team and what you will add to it, you get bonus points. Spend some time on this. Do your research. The very least you should get is loaner gear. At best, you might receive a small salary and free gear that you can sell later. If you get money from a windsurfing company, consider yourself lucky, and celebrate! If you are accepted on an international team, be prepared to devote time. There will be photo shoots, clinics, and contests. If you’re on the international team, despite the fact that you aren’t earning a salary, you are officially a professional windsurfer! Congratulations!

Some general tips

Try and find a current team rider to recommend you to any potential sponsor. This will smooth the way for you. If you can’t find a team rider, have your local shop or local sales rep recommend you. When you go to meetings, keep in mind that it will cost these companies absolutely nothing to support you. They are probably going to give you a “yes” of some sort. There’s no need to be nervous! Don’t be arrogant, but do remember that you will be doing the company a favor if you are a visible sailor and enter into a long-term relationship with them. Go into these meetings relaxed and friendly. Try and bring a win-win attitude to the meeting – this is not all about you, the rider. It is a partnership between you and the company. These companies want you to rip on the water, but they also want you to be approachable on the beach. The reps are just people, and if they like your personality, they will probably sponsor you! Do not be afraid to use a little, very subtle, womanly charm! Don’t tip your hand. Ask the company rep what they can offer you. Try a little negotiation from there. If they don’t mention photo incentives, ask. Granted, the chances of you getting a photo in Windsurfing Magazine (or another major windsurfing publication – most companies won’t pay for the shot in your local newspaper, or even for a front-page shot on the New York Times) are minimal, but it’s nice to have a contract worked out just in case. Most distributors that I’ve dealt with don’t have written contracts. Having a written document is a good idea if you’ve managed to get the company to agree to photo incentives or a salary. I’ve never had a company try and cheat me – on the contrary, they’ve paid me photo incentives I never negotiated – but a written contract is never a bad idea. You can ask for a written contract, but you may need to type it up and bring it to your next meeting. The distributor probably doesn’t have contract forms of their own!

Once you have sponsorship, keep in touch with your sponsors. Let them know about your contest results, your windsurfing vacation to Uzbekistan, and the windsurfing clinic you taught to underprivileged kids in East L.A. By staying in your sponsor’s mind, you ensure their continued support. If you have a friend who rips, introduce her to your sponsors. Your sponsors would rather have your ripping friend on their gear than on another company’s equipment. Don’t tell people what you pay for your equipment. This is confidential information between you and your sponsors. Don’t buy gear for your friends. Merely talking about buying gear for friends can cost you your sponsorship! Lastly, don’t expect to be an overnight magazine star just because you have stickers on your sails. You many win contests, throw huge moves, and teach clinics every weekend but never get a shot in a magazine. Your sponsors, believe it or not, are ok with this. They know something you should know too: a big part of getting a shot in a magazine is being good friends with the photographers. Another part is riding for companies who pay photographers when they publish photos. For example: Sail Company A pays a photographer $500 for a cover shot. Sail company B pays a photographer $100 for a cover shot. Photographers are motivated by money, and they will submit photos of people riding for Company A. You can play this game by asking a few photographers which company pays the most and pursuing sponsorship by that company. You can also make friends with/buy beers for photographers. Or, you can forget the magazines and be satisfied with not paying retail for your windsurfing equipment!

Temira Wagonfeld
451-24 Koizumi
Tsuruta, Aomori, Japan

Temira currently rides for: Hot Sails Maui, DaKine, Nolimitz, Iwindsurf.com, Gath, Hawaiian Proline, Wet Women LLC, Eversummer Gardens and Fanatic Japan


text: T. Wagonfeld; photos: PWA/Carter, J. Schweiger, morenotwins.com, A. Pauls windgirls 2006