Top surfers make sponsorship noise

Durbidge at the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search. Joli

Over the course of the Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons -- the final event of the Association of Surfing Professionals' season -- some top pros underwent sponsorship adjustments. Australian Bede Durbidge re-signed with wetsuit manufacturer Xcel through 2013, while Floridians Damien and C.J. Hobgood reached an agreement with Globe, allowing them to increase the number of logos adhered to their boards.

In a press release Monday, Xcel president Ed D'Ascoli said, "We're thrilled to continue working with Bede and can't wait to see what the next few years bring...Together we've built a great relationship."

An effusive Durbidge expressed his gratitude for the company's support. "They stood by me when I didn't have a sponsor," Durbidge relayed to ESPN. "I was more than happy to re-sign with Xcel; they're very loyal and have the best suits out there."

Negotiating the terms of his extension offered Durbidge the opportunity to hone his business acumen. "I handled Xcel myself. I got it in the first place and I'm really close with those guys. My manager deals with the other stuff," he quipped.

Durbidge's success in recent years has lead to deals with Xcel and, as of last year, Fox. Xcel first added Durbidge to its team in 2007. Through 2009, the 27 year-old has ranked 5th or better on the World Tour, topping out at number two in 2008 behind Kelly Slater. Durbidge has notched three contest wins during his career on the elite circuit, including the 2007 Pipe Masters and Triple Crown of Surfing.

"Re-signing Bede was a pretty easy decision," Xcel Marketing Director Robin Erb told ESPN. "He's a world class guy who's been super consistent performance wise. He's always in the hunt for the world title and we want to support him when that happens."

This year, Durbidge posted runner-up results at Southern California's Hurley Pro Trestles in September and the Rip Curl Pro Search Puerto Rico the following month. Durbidge pulled out of the Rip Curl Pro Portugal -- the eighth contest on the schedule -- to be with his wife as she gave birth to their first child in Australia.

Despite a fifth round loss in the Pipe Masters, Durbidge handedly re-qualified for the 2011 world tour season with a 6th place finish overall this year. Not placing in the top five "was a bit of bummer," Durbidge said, but he was otherwise satisfied with his performance.

For the Hobgood brothers, who have ridden exclusively for apparel company Globe since 2004, they are now in a position to ride for other brands.

"I did not leave Globe, they just stopped making clothes in America to focus more on the shoes. That is why both CJ and I just had small globe shoe stickers down lower on our boards at the beginning of the Triple Crown. CJ is still looking for a clothing sponsor but is also still riding for Globe shoes," Damien Hobgood explained to ESPN.

The parties, however, arrived at a point where the brothers can seek additional sponsorship. As long as there's no conflict of interest, Globe CEO Matt Hill noted, "They will be able to receive the support of other brands that don't necessarily compete with Globe, and get the usual support from us -- enabling them to reap the most of their current status at the top of the pro surfing scene."

Damien recently joined Durbidge on the Fox surf team as a result of the arrangement, telling ESPN last week, "Yes, I am riding for Fox and am so stoked. I also was able to keep Globe shoes, so this was a win/win for all parties."

Yet, courtship remains for C.J. "Yes, I'm looking for a home," he told ESPN. Asked about the exchange with potential employers, C.J. admitted that experience ebbs and flows. "Talking to sponsors, it's kind of everything, fun, frustrating, playing the game," he confessed. But C.J. is quick to acknowledge his privileged situation. "I do have great companies that still support me. Smith optics, Globe footwear, FCS, Dakine, Vestal, Quiet Flight surfboards. You have to have faith and also realize how blessed I am to be a surfer, sponsor or not."

A less lucrative but more meaningful component of C.J.'s shifting partnerships derives from the good will of a close friend. "Jamie Tworkowski heads up TWLOHA and I told him that I wanted to support TWLOHA during my transition process," C.J. said. To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a non-profit that advocates and invests in treatment and recovery for sufferers of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

Tworkowski supplied C.J. with clothing and stickers for his boards to boost exposure for the group. "It's been fun to have the chance to use my position and talents to maybe reach some people," C.J. claimed.

Like Durbidge, the Hobgoods also secured their position on the 2011 ASP World Tour. After bowing out of Pipe in round 5, Damien completed the year ranked 12th, and C.J.'s 3rd round elimination cemented his 16th overall rank.