Life as a professional windsurfer is a dream for many, however as well as endless beaches and hours on the water, pro windsurfers work hard, travel with incredible amounts of gear and struggle to stay injury free. But how does the life of a professional windsurfer compare to other extreme sports?
Boardseeker talks prize money, equipment and crashes with 2011 BWA Champion Ben Proffitt and downhill mountain biker Matt Simmonds.
Name: Ben Proffitt
Date of birth: 20/01/1978
Sail/rider number: K800
Best results: British champion 2006, 2010, 2011. British freestyle Champion 2004. 5th Pozo PWA Wave 2004. Ranked 13th PWA world tour 2010. Ranked 14th Pwa world tour 2011.
Sponsors: Simmer Sails, Simmer boards, Simmer wetsuits, O'shea clothing and Funsport.
Name: Matt Simmonds
Date of birth: 20/05/1987
Discipline: Downhill mountain biking
Sail/rider number: Ranked 17 in the world
9th Fort William world cup 2012
10th Leogang world cup Austria 2010
Ranked 4th in the UK the last two years running
Becoming a Pro:
When did you learn your sport?
BP: I started when I was nine years old, at Bala Lake in North Wales.
MS: Well I hopped on a bike at the age of three with stabilisers if that counts as learning! I started riding downhill, my discipline at about 12 just riding trails in my local woods.
How quickly did you progress and when did you start competing?
BP: I would say quite quickly as I used to sail dinghy's before, so I knew all about the wind. My parents had a caravan near the lake and we used to go every weekend and most holidays. I would get out whatever the wind was, I was fully addicted! I'd even go sailing with ice around the lake (haha.. my god you’re keen when you’re young!)
I started competing at the lake and used to race the boats on a handicapped system when I was 12. Then at 13 I entered my first national race and qualified for the junior U15 worlds in Spain, in which I finished 7th, the next year I managed to finish 3rd.
MS: I started competing in the Youth category at the age of 14, from there progression really took off. The experience I got from racing different tracks really helped me progress as a rider.
When did you become a 'pro'?
BP: That’s a tricky one as I've been a pro at two different times. The first time I was in the British Olympic team where I received lottery funding, I started this in 1996 and finished in 2000. The second around I switched to waves and making a living (loose term) from sponsors, prize money and media stuff. This has been from around 2005 until present day.
MS: About 6 years ago in 2006.
How do you make your living?
BP: Sponsorship, prize money, R&D/Testing, commentating, presenting.
MS: I’m very lucky in terms of sponsorship as chainreactioncycles.com provide me with a wage to live on. I’m also a qualified coach, which also contributes.
How much are the prize funds at events? And what can you expect to make in a year from prize money?
BP: UK - depends from year to year... from as little as £250 for winning in Ireland, to £1500 - £2000 for the Tiree Wave Classic. On the world tour you get £4750 for winning, £750 for 9th, £550 for 13th and £220 for 17th. So it depends on a few things but I would maybe make between £2000 - £4000 per year.
MS: A UK national event you can take home £500 for the win, which dramatically drops for the positions below and at a world cup it’s 3500 euro and goes down to top 10.
How many events do you compete in in a year and where are they?
BP: All the world cup events - 4
All the UK Wave events - 4
Some promo and demo events - 3
Oz tour (Well this year anyway) - 3
MS: I compete in around 15 events, which consist of world champs, world cups to British nationals and we travel as far as South Africa, Canada and Italy to name just a few.
Training and Travel:
Where do you go to train?
BP: In the UK Rhosneigr. In the winter Cape Town or Australia.
MS: At home it’s hard to find mountains big enough to ride or that we are even allowed to ride on! So I tend to go to either the areas around Malaga Spain or San Romolo Italy, as the terrain out there is perfect and they have the weather too!
How many hours a week? Just on the water/bike? How much other training?
BP: Depends on the wind! If it's windy, all day haha! But if I'm away and it’s windy everyday, maybe four to five hours. I do a fair bit of mountain biking, but only when I'm back home and there is no conditions. Also a bit of surfing if I'm near the beach.
MS: I will spend around 18 hours a week on a bike and around 10 in the gym and other cross training methods such as motocross or rock climbing.
Do you train mainly in the UK or do you head abroad?
BP: I love training in the UK, but it’s not always possible. So, if its been bad for a bit or I have an event coming up I'll try to go early and get some training in.
MS: I like to train at home on the fitness front as everything is to hand and it makes life a lot easier but when you come to riding the race bike you have to go abroad as we just haven’t the terrain or the mountains in the UK.
How much equipment do you travel with?
BP: It depends, in the UK and I can take the van i'll take everything...
4 - 5 -boards
That’s the lot, plus loads of other bits and pieces.
If I'm flying I try to cut it down a bit.
For training I can take a lot less. For example a few years ago in Cape Town I just took one board (75 litre) and four sails, two masts, one boom and was there for three to four months and it was fine. But for comps you need everything because it can be the difference between going through or not.
MS: 1X race bike
1x training bike
5 sets of kit
Gloves, shoes & goggles
A team van full of spares
The list goes on!
Tyres are the main equipment change we do depending on weather, there’s also suspension changes we can make depending on the terrain of a track.
Roughly what your total set up cost market price?
BP: 4-5 boards - £1400 each
8-9 sails - £500 each
4-5 booms - £500 each
7 masts - £450 each
3-4 wetsuits - £600
Plus loads of other bits and pieces
MS: You’re looking for a total bike build like mine in the region of £6000
When it all goes wrong
What has been your worst injury, how did it happen and what were the consequences?
BP: Injuried my back racing and spent 6 months lying on my back and not windsurfing.
Badly tweaked ankle/foot - over cooked a table top forward in Tiree and landed very bad. Title chances gone and 3 months not sailing.
MS: Broken knee cap at the start of 2011 while racing an Irish national event, I clipped a pedal and went over the bars. The consequences were six weeks off the bike and missing the first round of the world cup in South Africa, I was gutted.
What is the most painful way to crash?
BP: On your head!! :) Especially mid way through a double. Hooked in is another bad way to crash. One foot in the strap getting worked in a wave is asking for something to snap!
MS: It has to be the ones that bring you to an abrupt stop, I’ll take a slide any day over one of them.
What are the most common injuries?
BP: I'd say ankles and feet, knee would be up there too!
MS: Broken collarbones.
What has been your biggest close call?
BP: I've had a lot, but one that sticks out is a double in Cape Town where it was all going well, or so I thought but some how the rotation went strange and mid way through the second rotation the mast hit the water and I hit it full speed with my head. Somehow I didn't knock myself out but I did take a big chunk out my head and lost some hair!! I think that’s the problem with water based sports, get knocked out and you will probably drown!!
MS: Schladming Austria, mid race and a fan decides to get a bit close taking a picture he took both of us out resulting in me being knocked out and spending a night in hospital, apart from that not even a scratch.