For me and for most people going pro isn't as easy as winning races or scoring high.
I've tried that for a while and even though it is needed, in smaller sports it's just not enough! I am a "pro" or full time Speedboarder and distance longboarder. I have the world record for the longest distance skated in 24 hours (on an injured leg to boot) and I have been winning nearly every distance race on longboards that I attend. However in the highly competitive and under funded sport of longboarding, that just isn't enough.
To be picked up as an athlete by any particular brand you must first understand why it is they want athletes. They don't want you because you're good at your favorite activity. They need you as an advertising medium, or to prove that their product is the best.
-Me in SBC surf magazine, I'm the guy in blue, I made the article because I looked good and because I had the announcer at the race talk about me about my (then) one year old daughter. The memory of me stuck and I gained exposure
My strategy was to not only win races and score high in freestyle events, but to provide as much as I could for the prospective brands. I would get my name in magazines not just by winning that last race but also by writing magazine articles, or doing reviews for products that I liked (as long as it doesn't conflict with current sponsors). I organized races, started a few non-profits to the sport, one acted to educate people of safe practices, did media relations on behalf of all the boarders in Alberta and it did legal research. The other was an environmental organization called Greenskate. I also have to remain a visible member in the community and act as an ambassador to the outside world. This means being at events, competitions, meeting with businesses, having at the least one website. I must talk and reach out to people new to the sport or even those who have little exposure to it. I write press releases about my accomplishments or about the sport in general (a great way to plug your sponsors and make them happy, or a great way to hook prospective sponsors to your advertising methods). Even with all this work, 6 day training weeks and endless nights spent writing on the computer to companies and magazines, I still have to work a full time job and I have a 2 year old daughter. Life is hectic! Balance is tough. I always say doing what you love is the hardest career path one can ever take. You have to work harder than any one else.
I hear from people all the time "Oh you must have tons of money" or "You probably never worked a day in your life" and I laugh. I've been a laborer in a non-union auto parts factory, heck I even spent 4 years in the Armed forces and much more. Nothing comes close to being an athlete.
When it's all said and done you'll have to be smart and know how to sell yourself. Something I am trying to figure out. Remember, you are a product for the company, you're ad space, keep that in mind. The last bit of advice I can offer is to have a story, something that makes you stand out so that media will favor you or people can identify you. This has helped with me tremendously, skating across countries, having my daughter come to races with me or even just being a vegetarian who wins.
Hard work and persistence can actually come before natural talent. If you want to go "pro" its time to go work you but off!
Remeber - Balance, Hard work, and Exposure!
I use Vega to buy me time, save me money and when it comes down to training and competition, I use it to perform at my peak.
-A close up of my legs during a 400km long ride