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Beach Grit

History: Jordy Smith Turned Down $5.3 mil!

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

"No, thanks," Jordy said to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan!

Almost ten years ago, a twenty-year-old Jordy Smith became presumably the first person, male or female, to tell Tiger Woods ‘no’.

In what context could such a situation transpire?, you should be asking.

The year was 2008 and Jordan Michael Smith, a South-African native, was surfing’s brightest co-star (see: Dane Reynolds). From what I remember, Jordy’s longtime sponsorship with Billabong ended on sketchy terms (perhaps even with a lawsuit?), making him surfing’s hottest commodity leading up to his rookie year on Tour.

A bidding war ensued, wherein the likes of Quiksilver, Hot Tuna, O’Neill and other top brands attempted to seduce the young Saffa. To memory, Jordy enjoyed the cat-and-mouse affair, once stating something along the lines of, “I like to keep the companies on their toes. Some days I’ll wear Quiksilver boardies, an O’Neill T-shirt and a Ripcurl hat,” (Somehow I can’t find the actual quote on the web). Oh to feel young and wanted!

But it wasn’t just surf brands after the big man. At the time, athletic kingpin Nike was keen on permeating a then-promising surf industry and, naturally, ruling the market space. This meant purchasing the sponsorship rights of surfing’s top talents.

I’ll let the Sydney Morning Herald, in an article dating back to March 2, 2008, take it from here:

Jordy Smith took a phone call from Tiger Woods. He received an email from Michael Jordan. He was sent the shoe that Ronaldo used to kick a goal in a World Cup final. Nike offered him $5.3 million a year … but he knocked them all back.

[Jordy] was flown to Nike’s US headquarters in a private jet to meet the company’s co-founder, Phil Knight. A set of Woods’s clubs turned up in the post. They spoke on the phone for 45 minutes, and the message from the greatest golfer on the planet was simple: jump on board the good ship Nike.

“He gave me advice on how he went about it when he was my age, and told me about the company he was with,” Smith said. “It was kind of baffling in the beginning. You don’t know what to say because he’s such a high-profile guy, but you just cruise with it.”


Smith was a marketing dream for the swoosh. His first name is Jordan, his second Michael. Nike planned to run a worldwide advertising campaign with the slogan of “Air Jordy”. It was a play on the famous “Air Jordan” that helped make the American basketballer a household name across the planet. It was a perfect fit. When Smith gets air on a wave, he gets big air.

(One of my favorite paragraphs in all of surf writing. Anyways, continue.)

But then he signed with Californian company O’Neill, basically because it was a traditional surfing brand. It was still a seven-figure deal, making him one of the top five highest earners on the tour before he had even entered it. But he had to be content with about $3 million less a year. He’ll survive.

And do you remember all this fun stuff? I don’t. I must give thanks to the commenter Eugene Du Plessis, not only for cluing me into a pivotal moment in surfing history, but also for shining a light on a host of current events.

This story, interestingly, lends itself to a myriad of present-day BeachGrit themes. Let me explain.

1. Jordy chose O’Neill: On top of the fact that we’re mourning the death of industry legend Jack O’Neill (or at least enjoying his incredible tribute reel!), it’s intriguing that Jordy chose O’Neill over Nike (and its 3 million extra dollars) simply because the former is a “traditional surfing brand”.

Like, who even really cares, right? Money is time and to make 5 mil for rocking a little swoosh on your nose is… certainly palatable.

Or maybe, in surfing’s golden era, everyone made enough money to hold personal and moral standards about which companies they endorsed. It’s either that or Jordy feared that a Nike sponsorship would hinder his shoe collection capabilities. Regardless of the reason, it would be fair to say that Jordy made the right call, considering Nike’s rise and splat in the surf world.

That is, until…

2. Nike is coming back: Or so Chas says. Apparently they’re selling Hurley and attempting to join our penniless cult once more. Assuming this is true, how much do you think they’d offer Jordy Smith today? Would they even want the man who, nearly ten years ago, declared he’d like to win a world title within his first three years on tour, and now, at age 30, has exactly zero?

That is, until…

3. Jordy will win the title: Or so says Chas. I’m starting to realize that much of this article is contingent on the rumors and opinions of a forty-year-old professional receding hairline, which, in hindsight, is maybe not the smartest decision.

But honestly, if they’re looking to hop back inside this sinking surf industry vessel, I suppose neither is Nike.