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Corky’s words of wisdom for after when the sun sets on a career

I was recently asked to write an advice piece to younger, up-and-coming surf stars on how to avoid the disasters of the big financial fall off when the glory and limelight years of their surfing careers come to an end, and the prize money and sponsorships dry up.

And they will.

Kelly Slater may have an argument to this, but that dude is far from the norm and you can’t count on being on the pro tour into your eighties like he seems to be aiming for.  Surfing is a young person’s sport for the most part.

With the big wave tour now happening, it does open the door for people being able to compete and draw sponsorships at older ages than before.  But still, no matter how great you are, at some point it’s going to taper off and come to an end, trust me on this.

It was pointed out to me that there are some fairly well-known surfers who are, for the most part, penniless and living on the streets. So, how to avoid that kind of thing is the question for the day.

Surfing is just like any other sport, so this holds true no matter which one we are talking about.  Your big money producing years range from the late teens through mid-thirties, if you are lucky to have a long and successful career.  And during those years, especially the middle of them when you are at your peak, it is really easy to think that this kind of income is going to last forever.

When you are 25, it seems impossible that you will ever be 45.  You are superhuman and life is wide open.

This is when you need to also be super smart and realize that, even though you don’t think it’s gonna happen, one day this income is gonna be gone.  And what are ya gonna do?

It can come as a huge shock, too.  It can come early in the event of a bad injury or something of that sort.  And most companies only want to use the hottest young talent in their ads.  Their big market is teenagers, so they advertise to that demographic.

As an example, when I was in my 40s I was still a very well-known surfer.  I was in a number of national television commercials, including a series of them for Miller Lite Beer.  One day I was out reading for a part in something and I ran into a guy who told me that his son was a pro surfer.  I had not heard of this guy and it turns out he was like No. 60-something in the rankings.  But he had a $600,000-a-year sponsorship from one of the big surf companies.

At that time, I was lucky to get a free bar of wax.

Corky Carroll in a Miller Lite Beer commercial in the 1980s. (Courtesy Corky Carroll)

I am pretty sure the surf industry has come down a bit in the big money deals for pro surfers too, so if you are fortunate enough to get where you can pull down some big bucks these words are for you.  Put a large amount of what you are making now toward ensuring you will be able to survive after the party is over and the lights go out.

Buy a home, and if you can pay it off even better.  Having a home and no house payment is huge.

My mom always told me to stay away from fast cars and fast women, advice I totally ignored.  But, looking back, that is really good advice.  I really did not need those Porsches and Jaguars that I wasted a ton of money on.  You don’t either.

I can’t tell you where or how to invest, but that is exactly what you should do.  If you don’t know where to put your money, find somebody trustworthy who does know and get some help.  But don’t just spend it all in a blaze of glory and think it’s still gonna be there tomorrow.

Now, to those who are in the surfing game, but not at the level to be pulling in the big bucks.  If you plan on staying in surfing after your competitive years, then it’s time for you to think of exactly how you are going to be able to do that.  This is not easy either.

Good jobs in the surfing industry are not as bountiful as they might have been in years past.  You need skills of some sort.  Can you sell?  There is always work for people who can sell stuff.  In surfing or anywhere else.

During one lull in my life, I sold cars.

Or another way is to come up with a business that is successful and be your own boss.

Don Craig, amazing surfer and cool dude, is a great example of this.  For years he was a sales rep for a number of surf companies.  Through this he saw an opening in the market that he would plug into, the highly neglected geezer demographic.  So he started making “Old Guys Rule” T-shirts.  They went so well it became a super successful company and his years of being a sales rep were over.

Find something you can do and take it from there.

The key thing is don’t just do nothing and think you will be OK later because you are OK now.  Prepare now and be happy later.  The “golden years” are closer than you think.



Q. I recently moved to Orange County from Florida and was wondering what time of year you get the best surf here, and which would be the best spots.  We are still unpacking, so I have not had a chance to explore yet.  Any suggestions would obviously save me some time and gas.

– Morton Fulbright, Orange

A. Always happy to save a fellow surfer some gas money.  Our area is lucky to get surf all year and has many great spots to choose from.

The key is that certain areas work better on certain swell directions.  South swells are predominant in summer and the good part of that is pretty much the entire county works on a south.

The premier spots would be the points just to the south of San Clemente, depending upon your ability level.

Winter is different. We get swells from the west and northwest, and for the most part Catalina Island blocks off most of the southern half of the county, so the best bet is the beach breaks on the northern end.

Huntington Beach seems to always have surf, no matter what direction.

Good luck and welcome to the O.C.

Source: Orange County Register

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