Gabriel Medina. Photo: Corey Wilson
Instagram is an integral aspect of a pro surfer’s paycheck.
So much so that modern contracts include actual Instagram mandates, which I assume read something like this: “Mr. Freestone will display a Billabong hat in post heat interviews, bear Billabong socks whilst atop Alana, and post 83 Billabong-tagged posts in 2016. Here’s $500,000.” A surfer’s worth to a company is often predicated upon the basis of Instagram followership. My rough estimations indicate a 2:1 follower to dollar ratio, but then again I’m no ecologist.
But what aspects of a surfer determine his amount of followers?
Is it his age, his nationality, his WSL ranking, his world titles, his surfing ability, his aesthetic value? I say “his” because I think we all know what gets followers for our female athletes (cough cough Anastasia, who has 5x the followers of Carissa, women surfing’s GOAT). Anyway, through the creation of a haphazard Excel spreadsheet detailing the 2016 WSL CT, I learned this:
• Davey Cathels (AUS, 24, rank 33), the typical-Australian-contesty-guy, has the lowest number of IG followers at 7k
• Gabriel Medina (BRA, 22, rank 3, 1 WT), South America’s menacing ray of sunshine, has the highest number of followers at 3.9 million (or 1% of all active Instagram accounts)
• Kelly Slater (USA, 44, rank 9, 11 WT), the 2006 tic-tac-toe bronze medalist, has the second most followers with 1.1 million
• Mick Fanning (AUS, 35, rank 2, 3 WT), known for his frontside whoopdy-do, has the third most followers at 767k.
• John John (USA, 23, rank 15), the world’s best waverider, has 519k followers, nearly as many as Joel Parkinson (AUS, 34, rank 13, 1 WT) and Adriano de Souza (BRA, 29, rank 1, 1 WT) combined, and they each have a World Title to their name.
• Julian Wilson (AUS, 28, rank 6,), AKA Ken from Barbie, has more followers than JJF at a cozy 574k.
• Italo Ferreira (BRA, 21, rank 7), Rookie of the year and poster of the best photo of 2015 (still not letting this thing die), is relegated to an unreasonably low 64k
• Kolohe Andino (USA, 21, rank 26), child star known also as Mr. Steal Yo Girl, resides at a middling 221k.
But what does it all mean?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no one determining factor in the world of surf Instagram accounts. Based on the categories previously listed, you can cross off age as it doesn’t seem to factor in much at all. Nationality also has little bearing, except in the case of Medina. One can reasonably attribute his immense following to the Brazilian adoration of their first World Champ. Meanwhile, higher rankings generally translate to higher follower counts, but there are too many outliers to give this category considerable significance. Having a World Title certainly helps your cause, as the top 3 follower counts are owned by past champs. Yet, Kelly’s 11 titles barely garnered one third of Gabby’s 3.9 million followers, despite the fact that G Money has only one goblet in hand, indicating that title count is essentially irrelevant. Surfing ability is a hard one to call, considering its subjectivity, but its safe to say that the more “eh” surfers on tour have drastically less followers (with certain exceptions). In terms of the aesthetic effect, I think that Jules’ fanbase includes hordes of youngish girls, thus allowing him to eclipse the superior ability of John John. Another case for this argument would be Ryan Callinan’s 16k followers vs Freestone’s 218k. The two Aussies are adored similarly within the surfing community, yet Jack has the hearts of the teenie boppers thanks to his sharp jawline and infectious smile.
Julian Wilson. Photo: Taras
So maybe there is such a thing as simply being good at Instagram?
When you look at Wilko, you see a goofy looking fella with healthy mane and a nice backside whip, but he’s not really the type you see contending for a title. Still, Wilko transcends his ordinary talent and aesthetic mediocrity by being funny and relatable. Instead of “look at me shredding in my Ripcurl boardies” posts, Wilko generally chooses to highlight randomly comical aspects of his day, such as this and this. These posts allow Wilko to seem like a normal person, as opposed to another corpo chess piece. Not to single anyone out (because all surfers do it), but the latter idea can be seen in Keanu Asing, whose posts (here and here) reek of contrived sincerity and product promotion. I understand that these things and contractually obligated, but it makes for shit viewing on our end. The best type of promotional posts are the ones that seem accidental and entertaining, like this one by JW. Ultimately it’s all about relating to your specific market, and certain guys do that better than others.
Can one be good at Instagram? Absolutely. Do I know how? Not exactly. But what I do know is, it helps to surf like your fins are on fire and to be really, really, ridiculously good looking.
Good luck with that. —Michael Ciaramella