Brian Detrick: Funding His Professional Water Skiing Dreams

Q: How long have you been a professional water skier?

A: 7 years. I obtained my Open Rating September 11, 2009 and started skiing in Pro Tour Events in 2010 while I was finishing up my college education.

Q: Water skiing is not a household sport but is very popular within its own niche. Can you talk about how you got started and made a living from it?

A: When I was about two years old, my family moved from the Bay Area to Elk Grove where my parents bought a lot on a man-made water ski lake. Both of my parents water skied competitively, my mom at a local and regional level and my dad at a local, regional and national level, so being around the water was second nature to me. I started in the water on a kneeboard at 2 years old, transitioned to two skis tied together at 4 and this is when I started competing in local tournaments and surprisingly qualified for my first Western Regional Championships (13 Western States) my first year. I advanced to a single ski otherwise known as slalom skiing when I was 6 and qualified for my first National Championships. 

Q: What would you consider the average salary of a professional skier? Does it depend on the amount of competitions, exposure, etc?

A: In today’s world of water skiing, making a respectable living as a professional athlete is rare as very few and far between are able to do that. There are a small handful of skiers out there that are making it possible with most of them receiving support (salaries, training/travel stipends etc.) from their Countries and/or Water Ski Federations. Unfortunately the U.S. does not support us in any aspect and our Federation has limited funds to help only team members at World Championships and PanAm events.

Q: Do certain skiers have set salaries? If not, how do others get by?

A: A couple skiers have salaries from their country and some have salaries with a few of the bigger companies in the industry but everyone else is on their own. I wonder how others get by at times. They are getting support from Family, Friends or someone in order to do what they are doing. Personally I try to build relationships both inside and outside our industry with companies I can partner with. A little money, incentives and exposure can add up to help my brand as an athlete.

Q: Does not having a set salary affect the way you plan your competitions and financial schedule? 

A: Yes. Even though I have good income with my “desk job” (I work for Pacific Gas & Electric Company), I still do everything I can for planning the financial aspect of competitions and training. Tournament Entry Fees, Flights, Hotel, Rental Car and eating out on the road can add up quickly. Majority of skiers pair up to split the cost of the hotel and rental car for an event. This helps with the cost but even with that, on average a tournament in North America will cost $1,000. Other tournaments in Europe, Australia etc. will range from $2,000-$3,000 at times as it depends on how cheap you can obtain your flight.

Q: How big a role does sponsors play in the overall financial compensation skiers get?

A: It all varies on the individual skier and as previously mentioned, there is a very small handful that may receive upwards of 50-70% of their income from sponsors, or it can be very little or even absent for a large percentage of skiers.

Q: Recently you talked about having a bigger following can help how much you are being compensated from sponsors and appearances, can you elaborate on that?

A: Sponsorships and endorsements are all about ROI for companies. The bigger your following and the additional exposure you and your sport receive, the more value you can be to a company which can result in more compensation.

Q: What are some ways you budget as professional athlete?

A: At the beginning of the year, I look at all of the tournaments on the water ski schedule; Pro Tour Events, Regional/National Championships and record capability tournaments throughout the country and locally here in Northern California. If there are record capability tournaments locally, I will stay in the area and compete rather than spending $1,000 to go across country. It is nice to travel to other lakes/areas especially since the world ranking list takes your top two scores from two separate lakes but the extra cost adds up quickly. I try to prioritize the events that will give me the best opportunity to put up the best scores but also save some money at the same time.

I have selected specific travel reward credit cards that will give me bonus’ right off the back plus the opportunity to obtain the maximum points on what I spend most of my money on. I use these reward points toward my travel as well to help offset my expenses for my trips for tournaments or pleasure.

For travel, I am my own travel agent searching for the best deals for flights, hotels and rental cars. I have found joining a handful of reward programs gives me the best option in each travel category to find the best deal and to benefit from the rewards. Travel companies reward loyal customers with deals, upgrades and other perks that can be beneficial while traveling. Just this year I have received special promotions from Marriott where I advanced to their Gold level and Southwest I have just completed the appropriate number of flights for a California Promotion they had to receive their Companion Pass for 2017.

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Brian Detrick

is a professional water skier from Elk Grove, California. Growing up, Brian developed a passion for waterskiing while playing other sports like soccer, basketball, and football. Brian has held numerous records both at the national and world level. He recently held a top 8 world ranking and continues to grow in the water skiing world.