Surfing and Social Proof

by Ben Perreira

I’ve discussed Robert Cialdini’s “Influence” before because it is just that good. One of his six principles of persuasion is “social proof.” Social proof is the idea that we are more likely to be persuaded to do something when other people have done it.

When I was a youngin’ I wanted to be a pro surfer. We all know how that story ends, but the middle chapters were the most interesting. 

I started surfing when I was 11 and when I was 13 I decided I was good enough to have some sponsors. I read through magazines and crude surf brand websites to find phone numbers and contacts for team managers. I had a “resume” (which amounted to my goals and interests) and maybe two photos to share. I found one company, Ocean Minded sandals, that was willing to sponsor me. They gave me a pair of sandals and a stack of stickers that I was to put on my surfboards.

It was too easy, I thought. And it was.

I continued with the same methodology, adding sponsors to my resume as I went along and learning how to position myself in a way that brands would find attractive. My ability to sell my surfing ability improved a a rate exponentially greater than my actual surfing ability.

Once team managers saw that I was worthy of being sponsored by a peer brand, they were much more receptive to talking. My “persistence” (I was annoying as hell) and salesmanship helped close the deals. Within a year I had around 10 sponsors, replacing smaller names with bigger names when I could, thus increasing the speed and size of my snowball.

Of course, this all came to a head when I was 19 and couldn’t win a heat or do any big tricks in front of cameras. But it was the best (and most fun) sales and marketing training a 13-year-old could possibly have.