Global Wave Conference

The surfing economy

Global Wave Conference theme

Surfers have historically been considered a fringe group and often marginalised or ignored compared with other sectors of coastal tourism and recreation. Surfing has now evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry but we know little about this segment of coastal users. Efforts seeking to describe current economics and demographics of surfers in the United States and UK were until recently limited by lack of data.

The Surfrider Foundation, with support from Surfing Magazine, created the Surf-First Surfer Survey to collect a national dataset on the recreational, demographic and economic characteristics of surfers. By collecting this data for surfers in the U.S., the Surfrider Foundation developed national, regional, and area-specific profiles of surfers and describe their economic impacts. This information provides the first national characterisation of surfers and assesses the economic contribution of surfer visits to specific locations. These results can inform coastal management decision-making and show that surfers are an important segment of the coastal tourism sector.

Save The Waves runs a number of Surfonomics studies worldwide to determine the economic value of waves and surfing to local communities to help decision makers make better choices to protect their coastal resources and waves.

In the UK, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has recently published the Waves Are Resources report.

The Waves Are Resources report sets out why waves and surf spots should be recognised as valuable assets, protected for this and future generations. The WAR report not only focuses on the intrinsic value of waves to surfers but, perhaps as importantly, the economic value to the wider community. SAS released the report at the Boardmasters Festival, the UK’s largest surfing competition, which is dependent on the high-quality waves of Fistral Beach and generates £millions for the local economy.

In 2013, Surfers Against Sewage published their report The Economic Impact of Domestic Surfing on the United Kingdom. 2,159 people were surveyed for this report with some very interesting responses. Although the survey found that the majority of surfers are based around Cornwall and Devon (as would be expected), 11 other surfing regions had surfer populations in excess of 10,000. Surfers are also disproportionally represented in professional, managerial and business owning classes compared to the wider population (79.1% compared to 54%). They also have, on average, higher levels of educational attainment than the wider population (64% to 27%).

The report also looked into the economic impacts surfers have on the local and national economies. The report found that, due to the 500,000 surfers that live in the UK, surfing contributes between £1billion and £1.8billion per year spread between the regions and countries of the UK. Using an economic multiplier for tourism, none having been deduced for surfing, it suggests that the indirect economic impact of surfing may be as much as £3.96bn and the overall impact as much as £4.95bn.

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