Tough Decisions

by Ben Perreira

Yesterday, pro surfer and soon-to-be AARP member Kelly Slater announced he would be ending his sponsorship partnership with Quiksilver after 23 years. Since it was already April 1st in Australia and Slater was there for a contest, some people thought it was a joke. It soon became clear that it was no joke.

It reminded me of Spring 2009 when I was working for Slater’s agent. My responsibilities were everything from answering phones to running social media for Kelly and other clients. One time I picked up Kelly’s truck at LAX and took it to a police station to take care of a fix-it ticket. The pay sucked but it was fun and I learned a ton. 

As one can imagine, Kelly is pretty desirable to brands. With 11 world titles, he’s one of the most decorated athletes of all time. He’s also handsome and articulate. His Quiksilver contract was up in 2009 and he came pretty close to signing with another brand or doing a licensing deal similar to what it looks like he’s going to do with Kering. (This all came out in the press after his Quiksilver deal was signed in 2009, so I’m not spilling any privileged information).

At that same time I was getting a little restless professionally. My boss could probably tell and he and I sat down to discuss where I could go next. One possibility was to work with Quiksilver as a designated liaison for Slater. Another was with the Kelly Slater Wave Company. I ultimately chose to work on a surf tour that would fail about nine months later. The concept and some of the team would re-surface to finally take over the ASP World Tour this year.

Kelly was evaluating multi-million dollar contracts while I was hoping to crack $40k annually, but our dilemmas weren’t quite so different. Neither completely knew what would happen. I chose a riskier path with greater upside while he chose a safer path by sticking with his longtime sponsor. This time around, Slater took the riskier path with greater upside. 

Often wrongly interpreted, Robert Frost once wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Few people look at the two preceding lines, “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence.” 

Frost’s speaker is admitting with his prospective “sigh” that life is full of inherent unpredictability mixed with the impossibility of doing more than one thing at a time. What matters isn’t which road is more or “less traveled by.” He would be thinking about “the road not taken” whether it were the former or the latter! What matters, perhaps, is how one finds satisfaction with how he travels.