For the first time, the World Surf League will hold one of its championship events at Rottnest Island and a researcher from The University of Western Australia wants to use the opportunity to determine the economic value of surfing in Western Australia.
In addition to the long-established Margaret River Pro, the inclusion of Rottnest Island in the world tour is a major acknowledgement of Western Australia’s valuable coastal resources, as professional and recreational surfing provide significant economic benefits to the state.
Surfing is an integral part of Australia’s way of life, with more than 2.5 million Australians reported to engage in the sport on a regular basis.
However, economists and coastal planners rarely consider the economic and personal benefits of surfing.
Research Fellow Dr Ana Manero from UWA’s School of Agriculture and Environment, and the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, is an environmental economist who believes surfing waves should be understood and protected as a valuable natural resource.
“Surf economics measures the multiple benefits that surfing brings to users and local communities,” Dr Manero said.
“To do this valuation, you need someone who understands both economics and surfing.”
Pre-pandemic, direct expenditure on surf tourism across the world was estimated to be between US$32 and $65 billion.
Dr Manero said even higher values were reflected in real estate prices and through personal wellbeing.
“Events like World Surf League championships attract thousands of viewers, in-person and via broadcast, which can generate millions in direct expenditure and tourism publicity,” Dr Manero said.
“However, the real value of surfing is captured in people’s wellbeing: their physical health, their mental health, their sense of community. We need to find out how much this is worth.”
“People pay millions to live close to good quality surf breaks”
At the same time, coastal developments and ocean pollution can reduce such benefits.
In Perth’s north, the proposed expansion of the Ocean Reef Marina raised public outrage about the potential destruction of local surf breaks.
Dr Manero said understanding the importance of surf breaks could lead to improvement of surf quality, through the protection of existing assets and establishment of artificial reefs and wave pools.
“Most people don’t understand how waves break,” Dr Manero said. “It’s not only about the swell – the ocean bottom is crucial.”
“We need careful management of coastal landscapes to help sand sediments build banks that maintain natural breaks.
“In times of COVID, more than ever, we understand the value of nature and the small pleasures it brings.”
“We can’t travel internationally but we can still catch a wave on our doorstep – and that is priceless.”