Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Surfonomics

Soon to be heard out on surf breaks everywhere: "Dude, you kooked me on a very EXPENSIVE wave."

The Washington post recently ran an article by Gregory Thomas entitled, "Surfonomics Quantifies the Worth of Waves," which is an excellent headline to the extent it says it all.

It recounts the successful effort of surfer Chad Nelsen to beat back condo construction at a sweet Puerto Rican surf spot, Rincon, by demonstrating the economic force behind its shapely wave.

His victory led to the launching of "surfonomics" a subschool of natural resource economics that tries putting a money value on a wave. It does so, according to Thomas' piece, by figuring out what surfers spend per trip. Save the Waves generated a report with such gaudy figures as $23.9 million annually at Mavericks in northern California, and $4.5 million at Mundaka in Spain.

Turns out, the average surfer doesn't live out of a van and borrow money from his mother to stay afloat. Surveys show the average surfer is mostly a "He" in his thirties who makes about $75,000.

The surfer's public profile has come a long way since Spicoli at Ridgement High and the "Psychedelic Surfer" profiled here a few years back. The fear is that construction at spots popularized by surfers alters the shoreline, changes the wave, and kills the goose that laid the Golden Egg.

The Surfrider Foundation announced Aug. 27, that it would monitor the San Diego Association of Governments $22.5 million beach replenishment program. The group will spend its own funds to videotape important surf spots and analyze the waves' height, duration, quality, and just how long surfers ride them.

The goal will be, "to preserve the traditional characteristics of each surf spot, with the recognition that surfers of varying experience levels prefer different wave types."

It's good of Surfrider, but really it should be something the government does. Conservative/Libertarians will say this is the proper and adaptive mechanism, that when Big Brother gives up the ghost, private citizens pick up the...tab.

But if Surfrider finds that the county is botching up the break at Blacks, there's little they can do other than point it out or try to outspend a formidable foe in litigation. But when you have a robust EPA as enforcement tool, you can use drones to just blow up the sand depot and sand replacement machinery.

The second way surfonomics seeks to value waves is by measuring the treasuring of waveriders themselves.

For example, as coastal enclaves grow pricier, surfers forced inland are obligated to spend more for a trip. There's more gas and the farther you are from home, the more likely you'll have to eat before or after the session.

There are drawbacks. Once you start playing the market, you might find yourself subject to capitalism's "creative destruction." To wit: your surfing numbers might demonstrate a very nice annual income for the locals, but offshore drilling could offer even more.

"Are developers then in a position to 'buy' that wave from surfers?" asks Surface Against Sewage.

Good question, but whatever the answer, the article makes clear that the kind of energy that organized surfers harnessed in beating back the proposed toll roads at Trestles Beach/San Onofre is beginning developing an intellectual component.

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