To handle the modern surf athlete, Cortez says your head has to be in the right place. We think he knows what he’s talking about. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Cortez

Getting in touch with a pro surfer these days is next to impossible. To be more specific, you can’t approach them without first working with their management team. One of these surfers is the super-talented Yago Dora, which has one of the most sophisticated management teams in the market. Directed by Daniel Cortez, Team Yago is a well-oiled machine that even got Jack Robinson to join their specialist training approach. I spoke with Cortez about the importance of good management to a successful professional career in the modern age.

Surfing has grown exponentially over the past 25 years. At one time, surfers didn’t have managers. Now it seems they all do.

A professional surfer is in a different position today. It’s not just how good you surf, it’s how well you show the world that you can surf. And no surfer can do it alone. Not anymore. Not with all the social media and internet at his disposal. It is a separate full-time job. To be a modern professional surfer is to have the right exposure to the world. I’m not saying you don’t need to be world-class talent. Of course, you have to be one of the best in the world. And so management is about balancing your athlete’s life, and when I say athlete, I mean it. I chose Yago because he is a real athlete. He goes to bed early, gets up earlier, eats well, trains all day, and not just in the water. Serious workouts in the gym. Every day. That’s what it takes and that’s what a good manager is looking for. Commitment. The commitment Yago showed in coming back from his terrible foot injury is incredible. It usually takes a year. He did it in half that time. Especially coming back from Lisfranc’s injury. This commitment is therefore one of the keys. It’s super important to have a shared vision. The whole management team must want to become a world champion team. And Yago has this team pushing him towards that goal.

So what does your job entail, then?

My job is team leader. I take care of all the contracts, I make sure they pay. I do business. And I will say right away that the whole team is paid. No guilt there. This is a difficult work. It takes you away from the family for long periods of time, away from all the travel…but a good manager’s job is to manage all of the sponsor relationships, brand awareness, media and messaging monitoring and control of team. Keeping everything under control and on track. It’s my job. And also organize the daily life of Yago. His daily itinerary. His appointments, his surfs, picking the right spot to go surfing that day, arranging video and photos and media coverage, monitoring Yago’s physical health and medical checkups and even his mental health if any requires. I’ve seen as a manager that daily meditation sessions really help keep your athlete in the zone and happy.

So the trip is quite exhausting?

I find the right support in every country we go to. Gyms, restaurants, waves, photographers, all travel arrangements, accommodation. I also deal with any bureaucracy, governments and visas are also part of it. All this world travel is like a puzzle that you have to solve and be right every time. This part of the job is to organize the details so that Yago’s mind is free to do what it needs to do to fulfill its destiny. To surf, train and concentrate. His goal is part of all of us.

How is the relational side of management. Does it get, well, sticky or awkward?

As a manager, you should never lose sight of the human side of things. It’s not just about titles and money. You must keep a close connection with the surfer and his needs, desires and goals. Because you’re so busy with the details that you have to remember why you’re doing it and more importantly who you’re doing it for. It is a human being that you manage. An athlete, yes, but not a machine. You have to keep the management business very personal and keep this person close or all goals will be lost. It’s not a job for just anyone. It’s a 24 hour job and it takes a family business. We have a full-time manager, nutritionist, trainer, coach and videographer for social media, sponsor engagements, athlete visualization and performance analysis. This is the minimum professional team these days on the circuit.

So how did your team get involved with Jack Robinson?

Leandro Dora, Yago’s father, is a Brazilian surfing legend. And that’s the coach. And he’s doing such a good job that Jack Robinson approached us for practice and Leandro hired him. So Jack Robinson…after Jack started working with Leandro, we were super excited because Jack saw how far Yago was going so Jack approached us for coaching. And it’s so good for Yago too because the exchange of information and influence is almost like having a third pro surfer in the room. So much powerful energy. And Jack and Yago really push each other’s boundaries in waves of consequence. This is another key to management. Having your man around the right people, the right influences, and the right waves.

Yago Dora's manager Daniel Cortez talks about working with the modern surfing athlete

Yes, Mr. Dora certainly has all the skills necessary to win a world title. And he has the team. Photo: Daniel Smorigo//World Surfing League

What constitutes “good vibes?” »

Our last trip to Indonesia was super important because of Yago’s top seed in the G-Land event. Our plan was to place high in this contest…but coming back from the injury…look, no excuses, and it was good to practice and be under pressure again. Indonesia and its waves are very important for the style and technique of any professional surfer. As a manager, I make sure that Yago receives a lot from Indonesia.

So what’s the key to managing a surfer instead of, say, a footballer or basketball player?

I think that being a manager means above all being attentive and taking it seriously. Every day. To pay attention. This is the key. By paying attention to it. And even my affection, even my love for an athlete and my love for surfing. Without this passion, everything becomes meaningless. I believe good management involves a very personal, loving and caring relationship with the person you are helping to achieve their goals. And to manage surfers, it’s important to be an avid surfer yourself. And I am. This way you can relate and connect so much better. As a member of this team, I’m like a drummer in a rock band, keeping the beat, the beat on track.

Is there a bit of extra pride in the fact that you’re both from Brazil?

I think as a manager you must be very proud of where you come from. For me, it’s not just the Brazilian storm, but the Brazilian cause. We were among the first to organize professional teams like this. Like F1. We’re not trying to separate or even call it management. We are a team work. When Yago wins, we all win and he always lets us know. It’s the right atmosphere. It is success. Unstoppable. A great team all charging towards one goal. Keep the team together. And make Yago Dora become the best in the world.

Do you think we’ll see a title from your guy in the next few years?

We will fight for the world title. Yago has the potential and the vision. He’s a great tube rider, he’s one of the best acrobats in the world and he shoots different lines with a different style. He has the skills, no doubt in my mind.

Saying goodbye to other potential managers out there?

My advice to someone who wants to become a manager? When it comes to managing a surfer, without that thought in your mind of being the best, without that belief and focus…don’t even try, because you’ll fail everyone. Especially yourself.