What is Surfing Economics?

Surfing is more than just a sport – it is a lifestyle. Over 50 million
people across the world practice surfing on a regular basis. This not only contributes to the market economy, but also to well-being of participants and entire communities.

We know surfing ecosystems are valuable. But do we know how much? What is the value of surfing? What is the value of a wave? These are the questions ‘surfing economics’ is trying to answer.

‘Surfing economics’ is based on the long-standing discipline of ‘environmental economics’ and, in particular, on a set of methods known as ‘non-market-valuation’. In essence, these methods try to quantify the ‘worth’ or ‘value’ of things that cannot be bought or sold – for there is no market. Saving endangered species or improving air quality are common examples. These are ‘things’ (goods or services) that the environment provides us with and which we value, but we cannot buy. The same applies to surfing waves. Unlike other outdoor recreational activities, such as fishing, the value of surfing is only starting to be recognised among academics, policy-makers and coastal planners.

Information about the values associated with surfing can be used to better inform, for example, benefit-cost-analyses of coastal interventions. These can range from small initiatives, such as improvement of access paths, to large infrastructure like artificial reefs or wave parks. Surfing economics can also help understand people’s preferences and behaviours regarding surf amenity. For instance, it is possible to understand how surfers perceive risk and, thus, make decisions, depending on whether a certain beach has shark detection mechanism. 

Governments are constantly making decision about how to invest public resources and how much investments will benefit society. When it comes to coastal values, surfing economics can help gather information about costs and benefits of proposed projects. Importantly, surfing economics considers non-market benefits, like well-being, health and social cohesion. While the direct input of surfing into local and global economies is considerable, the ‘non-market’ values are also fundamental to understand the true value of surfing ecosystems.

What do we know so far?

It is estimated there are over 50 million surfers worldwide, spending up to U$65 billion/year in international travel. In Australia, surfing is the third most practiced nature-based sport, with current participation at 3.2% of the adult population, up from 2.1% in 2018. Surfing has been found to attract faster economic growth, higher real estate prices and labour movement into regional areas. Further, the sport’s contribution to personal and social wellbeing is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

In Australia and internationally, only a small number of works have quantified surfing’s market and non-market values. This gap contrasts with the large body of literature on other ocean activities, like fishing and diving, despite lower participation rates in Australia. Statistics by the Australian Institute of Sport indicate there are over 740,000 adult (15+ years) surfers in Australia, making surfing the second most popular water-based sport, only after swimming.

By combining knowledge in both surfing and economics, this research aims to quantify the value of surfing to the economy and society in Australia, and globally. This information may inform policies, such as the definition of surfing reserves, which can contribute to greater environmental preservation; improved personal and social wellbeing; and more resilient and diversified regional economies.

Dr Ana Manero


Meet Dr Ana Manero

Hi, I am Dr Ana Manero . I am an environmental economist working as a research fellow at the Australian National University. I have over 15 years of experience in environmental management, focused on water resources.

Over the years working in industry and academia, I have learnt to bring together sound analytical and research capabilities, with a strong passion for sustainability and preservation of natural resources. I am also an avid surfer.

See CV here.