Waves: boosting surfers and economies ever since

Surfing's increasing impact on local and regional economies has been proved with facts and figures. Chad Nelsen studied how waves create wealth in coastal towns. Welcome to surfonomics.

In the last years, several surf economists have been alerting for the fact that surfing is getting new businesses and attraction sources to the coastal regions of the world.

The second generation of surfers has also been improving its annual income and is prepared to travel and pay for accommodation to get great waves. Now, these surfers dream of a second home, with sea view.

Chad Nelsen, environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation, has been studying the impact of surfing in the US economy, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The results are quite remarkable.

"The assumption is often that surfing is worth zero dollars," Nelsen tells The Washington Post. "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".

The first figures speak for themselves. At least 3.3 million US citizens surf 108 times a year, drive an average of 10 miles per session and contribute at least $2 billion to the national economy annually.

Surfers aren't dudes and crazy blond youngsters. According to Nelsen’s study, the median surfer these days is 34 and pulls in more than $75,000 a year. The problem is that surfers still don't talk in business terms. Local authorities prefer to hear the MBA language, rather than the eco-passionate surfing arguments.

Recent studies put numbers and dollars in each surf spot, to put things into perspective. Mavericks, in California, is worth $23.9 million annually; Mundaka, in Spain, brings in about $4.5 million to the local economy each year. The Madeira island, a former Portuguese surf sanctuary, built a seawall and destroyed a perfect wave forever. Surfers left the spot and didn't return.

The new surfonomics business concept is a tight alliance between surfing, tourism and eco-friendly practices. Save The Waves and the Surfrider Foundations are actively working to raise awareness for the importance of surfing in the sustainable development of urban coastal regions.