Medalist Athlete Branding Guide

Learn how to build and grow your athlete brand.

How my teammate got to over 10k followers on Instagram

You should have seen my face when I stumbled on my teammate @ryandolankayak on Instagram. 

We were chilling in the hotel room, just in from our epic drive from Czech Republic to Hungary earlier that day. As I was posting up the pictures from the journey, I asked for his username to tag him in them. Went on his profile, clicked ‘follow’ but didn’t really noticed the outrageous number of follower he’s got… until I did. “Holy Shit! Twelve thousand followers! How did you do that?!”

His trick: hashtags and location. It’s all about a clever use of hashtags, being at the right place at the right time and a good Instagram etiquette.

Of course, he’s got the material to fill up a profile with a ton of cool pictures: he’s hawaiian, he races canoes and kayaks of all kind in Hawaii and all around the world. It certainly helped to have a unique a unique lifestyle in a place many call paradise.

But he’s not a celebrity, a model (at least not professionally), a rich kid of Instagram or an Olympic champion (no offence, Ryan).

Nonetheless, with consistency and hard work, he mastered the Instagram etiquette to boost his followers count.

What does that mean for us? Well, hashtags do work! (WTF are hashtags?)

It’s pretty straightforward, hashtags make your instagram pictures more discoverable. 

It gets tricky as to know which one to use and how many to put on before it's just too much.

Here are a couple takeaways on using hashtags:

  • Think of hashtags as keywords to add context to your picture.
  • Observe and learn. Pay attention to what hashtags are used by other athletes/users. 
  • Jump in on Instagram themes like ‘Throwback Thursdays’ (#tbt)
  • Find the top hashtags on instagram.


  • Ryan had a lot of success early on when Instagram was still in its infancy. Back when a sunset picture on the beach in Kailua with #sun, #sunset, #beach would get him a bunch of likes and followers. Nowadays, such posts would take you straight to the douchebag category, so post with care.
  • Because hashtags were getting out of hands, Instagram have started to block some of them. Here’s the unofficial list of blocked and unsearchable hashtags that you should avoid using.

Use the location feature.

Tagging your picture with a location or landmark help user get more context out of it. Not only that but it also make your Instagram picture searchable and discoverable to surrounding users.

It works well especially in crowded areas where literally thousands of Instagrammers commute (ie.: Time Square).

For us, athletes, it becomes handy during events where we get a unique point of view (ex.: at an international meet, race or during a gala). We’re able to offer the insider's view of the event. It's a great way to get noticed by users and since you brought them an inside view and value, your likely to get them to follow you back.

Sure enough, tagging the location also help you keep your caption light and of course avoid destroying the name of a European landmark with its complex strings of consonants, vowels and accents. Remember this next time you go for a hike on the Eyjafjallajökull.

Written by
Geoff Wolfer
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