[Ed.'s Note: The Action Sports Report is a weekly blog that covers sports from skateboarding to snowboarding to FMX.]
The 2009 ASP world surf tour begins Saturday with the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. Most of the top 48 landed on the Gold Coast of Australia this week to dust off the competitive cobwebs. Bobby Martinez, 26, arrived nearly three weeks ago. This season, he has something to prove.
This is Martinez's fourth year on tour and, so far, he's been a model of consistency. He finished all three seasons in the top-10 (6th, 10th and 9th, respectively), has won three major events and was the 2006 Rookie of the Year. Kelly Slater recently called him the "hungriest" surfer on tour this year. Yet Martinez starts the season without a major clothing sponsor, which is the meat and potatoes of a surfer's endorsement income. In fact, he's the only person in the top-10 who doesn't have a clothing endorsement. And it was entirely his decision.
At a time when companies are being forced to dump athletes and tighten their rosters, Martinez chose to leave his clothing sponsor, Reef, on Dec. 1, 2008, almost two years before his contract was up. He left, he says, for peace of mind and because he wasn't happy in his current arrangement—even though he had no standing offer from another company. "I left Reef knowing I wouldn't have a sponsor, but hoping to find one," Martinez said via e-mail from Australia Thursday afternoon. "So I was ready for this."
This isn't the first time Martinez has demonstrated his independence from a sponsor. One year ago he parted ways with longtime surfboard sponsor Channel Islands. That split, he says, was amicable and based solely on equipment needs.
Martinez's remaining sponsors—Monster energy drink, Swatch watches, Ocean & Earth accessories and DHD surfboards—take care of his travel and provide him with gear, boards and a salary that allows him to live comfortably and pay the mortgage. Since leaving Reef, Bobby says nothing about his life has really changed, besides the fact that he's leaving a lot of money on the table. Not many athletes—or anyone, for that matter—would walk away from a paycheck like that without the assurance that another opportunity was about to knock. But Martinez comes from a humble background and, despite his financial success, has continued to live below his means—another thing you don't see in most professional athletes. For him, the choice was simple.
"Money doesn't make you happy. It only makes materialistic things come easier," Martinez wrote. "I'm not a materialistic guy. All I want is family, friends, surfing and my two dogs. I'm a simple person with simple needs. I will live my life happily as long as I can just get by and be surrounded by the things I love. I never dreamed of being rich—just of being happy."
With this decision, Martinez says happiness is exactly what he's found (it doesn't hurt that he got married on Saturday). But what was the cause of his unhappiness in the first place?
"I was not happy at Reef for a couple years now," Martinez wrote. "From [Reef] not caring about my video Mixtape, to not being able to get product from the company, all the way to my boss wondering if he gave me a raise, would I just not want to do contests, just sit and collect the money?
"It's kinda hard to be with a company when they have no faith in me surfing contests and trying to win a world title. He questioned me about that a few times, and I felt like I never did anything for him to question me. Because he thought of me like that, I didn't really see a future at Reef. I supported Reef 100 percent when I was with them, but I felt like I wasn't being supported 100 percent by Reef. So I left."
But Bobby's not one to sweat the small stuff, a quality that's becoming increasingly rare in the ultra-competitive world of professional surfing. Now he begins his fourth season on tour as one of the only top surfers without a big-time clothing contract. Does that add to his stress at Snappers, or alleviate the stress of a relationship gone bad? "I have mixed emotions," he wrote. "I'm more happy than if I was with Reef. But I would love a sponsor."
[We contacted Reef on the matter and received this response from VP of Marketing Kevin Flanagan: "Reef is committed to remaining on the high road and we wish Bobby both personal and professional success."]