Surfonomics quantifies the worth of waves
"A 2011 survey concluded that about 3.3 million people surf 108 times per year & contribute at least $2 billion to the U.S. economy annually. The average surfer was male, in his 30's, well-educated & employed full-time, defying the stereotype of a surfer as young, uneducated & jobless.
“The report is to demonstrate that, hey, there’s a lot of surfers in the U.S. They go to the beach a lot, and they spend a lot of money in these communities,” Nelsen said. “Therefore, you should take their interests seriously."
The assumption is often that surfing is worth zero dollars,” said Nelsen, environmental director for the Surf*rider Foundation. “It’s taken for granted. It’s not perceived as being a viable and important source of economics, particularly with decision makers in coastal zone management that we’re talking to all the time.
Save The Waves has since produced two studies evaluating the economic value of surf breaks, in partnership with academics at Stanford University, the University of Oregon and the University of Hawaii. Mavericks, an epicenter of big-wave surfing in Half Moon Bay, Calif., is worth $23.9 million annually in a report produced in 2010. A wave at Mundaka, off the coast of southern Spain, brings in about $4.5 million to the local economy each year, according to a 2007 study.
“These waves are our Yosemite Valleys,” Nelsen said. He believes they deserve the same considerations and protections. “We think of these as national treasures.”
The same way national parks set use restrictions on select areas, surfers are beginning to induct unique wave breaks into what they call World Surfing Reserves. The designation was created in 2009 by Save The Waves and modeled on an Australian organization called National Surfing Reserves that has had success coordinating protection plans with government officials for about a dozen surf breaks. What is often lacking is the financial element — key to swaying decision makers, said Neil Lazarow, an economist who evaluated surfing on Australia’s famed Gold Coast.
Colgan thinks the rise in coastal tourism is partly because of the economic downturn driving people to cheaper housing inland. Because it is too expensive to live where they can surf, people are traveling farther to do so.
“As growth is shifting inland and people are traveling to the coast from further inland, the idea of surfing as just a cultural issue on the coast needs to be shifted,” Colgan said. “It’s not about that one stretch of beach. It affects a larger geographical area.”