Supergirl Pro: Volunteering at the world’s largest all-women’s surf contest

Jennifer Bulcao
Jennifer Bulcao

As Program Coordinator of the Sports MBA Program at SDSU, many intriguing internship and volunteer postings pass through my office each week. One recent opportunity in Oceanside, Calif., particularly caught my interest – the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Ford Supergirl Pro. This year’s seventh annual event featured 96 professional female surfers, the largest competition of its kind worldwide, and serves as the only qualifying event in North America for the ASP World Championship Tour.

After working for five years in professional men’s tennis, I have been eager to test my event operation skills in a whole new arena – action sports. When I learned of an event of this caliber taking place right in my backyard, I couldn’t resist signing up to volunteer along with current student KC Niedermeyr (SMBA ’14). ASA Entertainment, the event production team, assigned KC and me to the Sponsorship Village as we both have event experience under our belts.

The Sponsorship Village was a new addition to the Supergirl Pro event this year. Some tents promoted companies like surf vacations for college credit or online surf channels, while others sold products ranging from Hawaiian shaved ice to turf-covered skateboards. Free to the public, this area also featured daily dance lessons, yoga workshops and live bands. The area was ingeniously created to draw a larger crowd to the competition, and vendors were charged a reasonable fee to rent a 10’ by 10’ tent for the three-day event.

ASA worked closely with the City of Oceanside to purchase permits for the beach for the actual competition and the amphitheater for the village. One breakdown in communication, however, regarded the public walkway that runs the length of the beach just between the waterfront access and the cement stage area. Non-event food vendors set up shop on the sidewalk just outside the village area, offering identical items as the vendors who paid to be behind the fence. The City of Oceanside did not mention these pre-permitted vendors to ASA, who could have avoided charging vendors to sell the identical snow cone or hot dog in a less accessible area than the public boardwalk.

Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton

Another challenge, one new to me professionally, was running a non-ticketed public event. Without a way to officially track turnout on a busy beach and lengthy pier, the competition was forced to operate solely on estimates of attendance and media impressions. As a start, I would have attempted the difficult task of counting the autograph session attendees. For crowd favorites like Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack at the age of 13, families began queuing at 8:30 a.m. for a 3:30 p.m. signing session. I would think there exists the opportunity to capitalize on such a phenomena, as a surf competition attendee wouldn’t incur any other expenses for the day besides lunch. I would recommend a revenue stream like selling advance autograph “ticket” packages including a poster or exclusive T-shirt and the opportunity to advance directly to the start of the autograph line. Some of the parents who waited on a Saturday in the blinding sun for seven hours for a single autograph would certainly pay $100-plus to arrive 15 minutes prior and skip to the head of the line.

Bethany Hamilton may have won the hearts of hundreds of little girls screaming for an autograph or photo, but unfortunately she did not advance past the round of 12. The Supergirl title and accompanying pink silk cape were earned by Hawaii native Malia Manuel. Although Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959, Hawaiian surfers like Supergirl Pro champion Malia Manuel are still recognized in a category separate from all the other 49 states in professional surfing.

Thank you, ASA Entertainment, for letting me be a part of your overwhelmingly successful event! Despite this being my first time working operations for an event like surfing, apparently my tennis tournament background served me well. KC and I brought home the Best Volunteers of the event award, recognized with a shell lei so heavy that I fear it may rip the screw out of the wall in my office where it currently hangs. Hopefully Malia Manuel and I will both be back in Oceanside next year to defend our respective titles.

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