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Why is it so crowded in the line up: Do The Math

February 14 2010 | Surf Protection, Surf Economics,
by Chad Nelsen

If you take the coast of California between San Francisco to the Mexican border, which is roughly 500 miles, and grossly estimate that there is one class “A” surf break every 50-miles, that would total 10. Then, say there is one class “B” break very 5-miles which adds 100 breaks to the total. Once again, let’s assume that there is yet another class “C” break every 5-miles to add another 100 breaks, making a grand total of 250, with, in truth, most of the surfers being drawn to the better third.

250 Surf spots

Now, let’s say that there are 500,000 active surfers in California, and that on any sunny weekend day with a 4-foot swell running, that 10% will hit the surf. Now, let’s consider that at least 1/3rd of those 250 breaks will be completely off-duty due to swell direction. That makes for 50,000 surfers sharing 250-less 83 breaks=50,000/167 which means that on average, there will be 299 surfers for each working surf break along the coast between San Francisco and the Mexican border.

299 Surfers per spot

Now let’s be real, the population is probably 2/3s in the south and 1/3 north, so the distribution at breaks would be weighted to the south. Therefore, let’s say 66% X 50,000 surfers=33,000 surfers for the working breaks in the south, and 17,000 for the working break in the north.

2/3 of those surfers live in Southern California

Of course, quantifying “the better break attracting more than their share” theory means that, let’s say, 35,000 surfers surfing the top third working breaks (56) or about 625 for each of those which leaves only 15,000 for the other 111, or 155 per.

625 surfers per spot in the South

155 surfers per spot in the North


In the real world, what actually happens is that over 500 surf Trestles during a day in roughly five shifts from dawn to dusk-the same at Malibu, and Huntington Pier and San Onofre, while most other breaks get way less.

500 surfers a day at Trestles, Malibu, Huntington & San Onofre on a good day

But any way you cut it the total mass of surfers and approximate number of surf breaks is undeniable.

This is, of course, completely theoretical and statically askew, but the numbers don’t lie. We have outgrown our supply.


From The Surfers Journal blog

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