A surfer rides a wave

Surf break discoveries create economic growth

14 March 2017
Policymakers could use surf breaks to create jobs and reduce poverty

A study of 5000 surf breaks around the world has found their discovery boosts economic growth, with Western Australia a hotspot for growth.

University of Sydney research reveals high quality surf breaks boost economic growth in nearby areas – and by how much.

Researchers analysed satellite images of night-time lights as a ‘proxy’ for economic growth. They found that a surfing community’s discovery of a high-quality break can raise growth by 2.2 percentage points a year.

The study of more than 5000 surf break locations in 146 countries spans data between 1992 and 2013, with a concentration toward breaks in Australia and the United States.

We conducted four sets of experiments, and they all confirm that good waves significantly increase growth, particularly after recent discoveries and during El Niño years,” said Dr Sam Wills, of the University of Sydney’s School of Economics.

While it’s well understood that natural features like rivers and fertile soil matter for economic growth, this provides some of the first evidence that natural amenities are also important.

Researchers investigated data in two locations where surf breaks were removed and found that nearby economies shrink when this occurs. A break at Jardim do Mar, Portugal, was removed though the construction of a coastal road, while another at Mundaka, Spain, disappeared after a river mouth was dredged.

[Policymakers] can promote public and private investment around surf breaks, while protecting their environmental quality.
Dr Sam Wills
Surfing beach

The study looked at more than 5000 surf break locations in 146 countries between 1992 and 2013.

The paper suggests policymakers can use surf breaks as a way to create jobs and reduce poverty, especially in developing countries. To do this they can promote public and private investment needed to enjoy surf breaks, while protecting their environmental quality.

“Discovering a high-quality break – or battery-heated wetsuits that made cold-water breaks more accessible – increased growth in the surrounding areas,” said Dr Wills. “But destroying a break reduced growth, even if it was replaced by a new road or a dredged river.”

Dr Wills – who enjoys surfing in his spare time – will present the findings at the International Surfing Symposium conference at the Gold Coast this week, in the lead-up to the Quicksilver Pro – the first stop on the 2017 surfing World Championship Tour.

“I had the idea for the paper straight after I submitted my PhD thesis,” he said.

“It was November and I needed to get out of Oxford, so I looked for somewhere warm and sunny with good waves. I settled on Taghazout in Morocco, thinking it would be quiet. Flying in at sunset over the desert I noticed that everything was dark, except for one little spot that was lit up like Pitt Street: Taghazout.

“Once I arrived I realised that this previously sleepy little fishing village had been overrun by surfers, and so I wanted to figure out whether it was systematically happening around the world.”

Top 10 Fastest Growing Surf Breaks from 1992-2013:


The World

10. Express Point, VIC

10. Rabbits, Australia (WA)

9. Smiths Beach, WA

9. Isolators, Australia (WA)

8. Smiths Reef, WA

8. Yallingup, Australia (WA)

7. Mouse Traps, WA

7. Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

6. Supertubes, WA

6. Playa Lagosta

5. Yallingup, WA

5. Omaha, New Zealand

4. Palestines, WA

4. Dark Reef, Vietnam

3. Rabbits, WA

3. Shabandar, Malaysia

2. Isolators, WA

2. Yacila, Peru

1. Yallingup (shorebreak), WA 

1. Nosara, Costa Rica

Luke O'Neill

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)

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