June, 2019

How wakeboard world champion Sanne only barely lives off her prize money

The sound of rippling water, tropical house music, sizzling barbecues and glasses touching each other in hearty cheers. The sun burns a bit on the skin, but it’s perfect in combination with the light breeze on the lake. The atmosphere around wakeboarding hints of a magical summer. Or: a carefree existence. But appearances deceive.

Meet Sanne Meijer. Only 22 years old, but she’s been a standout in her sport for a year. She was crowned best in the world at age seventeen. Five years later there are three world titles and five European titles on her resumé. Need that summer feeling? Then check out her Instagram page (Sanne_Meijer). Guaranteed success in the category of “sun, sea and sand”.

Wakeboarding is her passion, her life and the thing that’s brought her all over the globe. She’s shown the most amazing tricks on world-wide water. To challenge yourself, improve and break boundaries. That’s the life of a top athlete. But in spite of her flawless record and high position on the world leaderboard, Sanne is concerned. Funding is a big problem for her, and she spoke to us about it during a competition at the Zeeuwse Hoek, Westerschelde, in the Netherlands.   

   “The sport is so microscopically small in the Netherlands that it’s really hard to receive financial support'' says Sanne, who receives the minimal help NOC*NSF has to offer. “You have to make due yourself.” And that’s a big challenge for her. Year in, year out. “I have a range of sponsors. That money kickstarts the season for me. Then I pick the competitions that will earn me money. A win means I can go on to the next tournament. But it’s constantly a matter of winning, an always-on performance mentality to continue. It gets difficult sometimes.”

On top of that it’s more difficult for women in wakeboarding than it is for men. “The difference in prize money is huge. As a woman you need a side job to afford the travel and the competitions.” And when Sanne doesn’t win prize money, she has no income. A job on the side, next to her athletic career, isn’t possible. “Because what company would hire someone who has to travel every month?”

It’s a big contrast between the troubles and the chill vibe that surrounds wakeboarding. Sanne glows and has fun with other athletes, while visitors have firmly planted themselves on colorful beanbags and try to decide the best sauce for their burger. In the meantime the speaker tries to sell his humor to the vacation park’s visitors...

It’s actually incredible that Sanne is a part of elite – the top-in-the-world athletes. The Netherlands isn’t exactly a country where you can train everywhere as a wakeboarder. Sanne lives in Groningen, a place with strict speed limits on boats. To practice she has to travel to Oude Wetering – a two hour drive from her house. She has a coach, but he’s a volunteer and can’t always be there. Sometimes her mom films her training sessions from the boat, so Sanne can check the tape and use that to her benefit. But more often than not, she’s alone on the road.

If she could generate more funding, a lot of worry would disappear. “I think there’s always a way to continue my sport, but only at the bare minimum. I wouldn’t be able to perform at this level” she says.

She sees this happening all around her. “A friend of mine was top in the world, but she fell out of it. She started working, because financially speaking she couldn’t keep up. She’s 28, has her own house and has to take care of herself. I’m lucky I still live at home.”

So Sanne poors every cent into her career. Everything would help at this point. “With more funding I can train more and further develop myself. I would rock the waves of the United States for a month. That would help a lot. I would definitely be able to make the step to the first spot on the world leaderboard. And if I perform better, I would also earn better”, she says while laughing.

It’s Sanne’s dream to have her own wakeboard track on her own tropical island. It sounds like a fairytale, but Sanne is serious. She calls it a five-year plan and she’s looking into its feasibility. On her way to a carefree existence.

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