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Sector 9 leaves surf photographer hanging

Major US skateboard manufacturer, Sector 9, claims to be so financially constrained it is currently unable to pay a paltry $2250 to South Australian surf photographer, Hayden Richards, for licensing three photos.

The Sector 9 skateboards featuring Hayden Richards, AKA SARips, photos.

Richards, AKA SARips, has an original photography style that masterfully showcases the remote Eyre Peninsula. Richards opts for tones to match the raw energy of the Southern Ocean, and the harsh, rugged desert environment. His Instagram page features terrifying barrelling ocean slabs, sharks (or maybe dolphins?), windswept dunes, caves, cliffs, pro and local surfers, moon-lit large-format film photos, and geometric compositions.

He’s on a different trip out there, and it’s won him fans across the world, from professional surfer Kelly Slater to US skateboard manufacturer, Sector 9. Richards told Inside Imaging the brand contacted him over two years ago to negotiate licensing images to print on their skateboard decks.

The deal was $750 for non-exclusive rights per board design, eventuating in three decks released in January with Richards to be paid $2250. After issuing the first invoice in February 2022, the photographer has since waited patiently, occasionally reminding Sector 9 the invoice remains unpaid.

Richards’ boards are the first to appear in the Australian Sector 9 web store, with two of the boards costing $400 each, while the other is $300.

Three Sector 9 skateboards with Hayden Richards’ photos on them.

The photographer has now taken to Instagram about the matter, posting a story alleging ‘Sector 9 have been selling these board for a year now and won’t pay me for the images they stole’. Richards said the brand continuously claimed to be broke and unable to pay the invoice. The photographer later posted an update to Instagram, quoting a Sector 9 representative as telling him:

‘Hayden, Let me see where we’re at with this. I know you’ve heard this already, but here it is again. It’s been a very tough year sales wise. We brought in a ton of product that has depleted our cash and we have a lot of outstanding invoices with retailers that have made cash very difficult to come by.’

This makes Sector 9 sound like a core brand run by a few die-hard skaters out of a garage with no idea what they’re doing. And maybe it was in the ’90s, but not anymore.

Sector 9 was founded in 1993 in San Diego, California, and was acquired by Australian surf brand, Billabong, in 2008, with it estimated to account for two percent of sales that year. In 2018 Bravo Corp, ‘a major outdoor play and recreation products manufacturer’, acquired the brand from Billabong for US$12 million.

Richards has been dealing with the aptly-named Dwindle Distribution, a distribution company acquired by Bravo Corp in 2019 which handles supply of iconic skate brands like Almost, Enjoi, Blind, Darkstar. While sales may be ‘dwindling’, it’s comical to suggest there isn’t a loose couple grand hanging about to cover an unpaid invoice.

But that’s the story.

Richards’ long wait to be paid leaves him in good company. Tahiti-based French surf photographer, Ben Thouard, has licensed photos to the brand for skateboards several times over the years. He told Inside Imaging the company was initially great to deal with – prompt payments roughly US$500 per board – but the last time he waited about a year for payment.

A board featuring Thouard’s picture.

‘It can take them a long time. Up to a year,’ he said, ‘but they paid me in the end.’

It’s extremely difficult to make money from surf photography. The surf industry has collapsed, leaving slim pickings for photographers to earn a decent wage. It’s a passion project and recreational pursuit for most surf photographers, who likely source income from other sectors of photography or different careers.

Credit to Sector 9 for engaging surf photographers, rather than sourcing generic stock photos or graphics, but US$500 per board seems like an extremely good deal for them. Especially as it’s more than just licensing a photo, as the commercial product is marketed around Richards’ work.

Thouard speculates it’s a ‘small budget’ for a ‘small market’. Rather than being mass produced, he recalls his photos were printed on a limited line of boards, and other artists – not just photographers – were paid a similar fee.

What’s offensive is mistreating photographers by keeping these meagre payments on hold. No doubt everyone else in the equation has taken their cut.

Sector 9 didn’t respond to Inside Imaging‘s request for comment.

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