Surf Protection
March 20 2013

Protecting ocean recreation and surfing

by Chad Nelsen

Ocean recreation and especially surfing can be threatened in many ways. Loss of beach access can limit opportunities to recreate in certain places. Ocean pollution can threaten the health of ocean users, kill coral reefs or result in beaches being closed. Modifications to the shoreline and alteration of coastal processes from seawalls, jetties and beach fill can change nearshore bathymetry and impact the quality surfing areas. Over development of our watersheds can impact water quality and limit sediment flow that provides sand and cobble that make up surf breaks and reefs. Offshore development such a oil drilling, wave and wind farms, and aquaculture can impact recreation along the coasts in numerous ways. Finally, impacts to ocean wildlife, whether it’s over fishing, invasive species or impacts to marine mammals, can make the ocean a less wild place diminishing ocean recreational experiences that range from spearfishing to whale watching.  Given all of these threats, what are the solutions to protecting ocean recreation and surfing?

The Surfrider Foundation takes a multi-pronged approach to protecting ocean recreation and surfing. Here we provide an overview of those approaches and we will dive into each one in more detail in subsequent posts.

Reactive protection: In many cases a surfing spot is threatened by a specific project that demands a defensive reaction to the threat. This was the case when the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) threatened the surf at Trestles by proposing a six lane highway what would impact water quality and gut the watershed that supplies the cobble and sand that makes the wave great. Another recent case was the proposed seismic testing in Morro Bay that would have kept surfers out of the water for weeks on end while decimating the local porpoise population. You can see where we have active campaigns and those we’ve already won here

Reactive fights are a necessary evil but not the best way to protect surfing. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, the best fights are the ones you win before you start.

Surfonomics: When the value of a natural resource is unknown, they are often assigned a value of zero. This is often the case with surfing, where hackneyed stereotypes of lazy, burned out surfers result in disregard for the economic contribution of surfing to coastal communities. Not surprising to any surfer, surfing is an important economic driver in places where high quality surfing areas attract surfers to their community who then spend money in local businesses. By using techniques developed in the field of resource economics, the Surfrider Foundation is helping to better understand the demographics, behavioral patters and economic values associated with surfing. This information can be an important tool for the protection of surfing.

 Go here to learn more about these efforts.

Ocean Recreation studies for Ocean Planning: Expanding beyond surfonomics, Surfrider is engaging in state and regional non-consumptive ocean recreation studies to characterize recreational use for entire states and regions. We are focused on non-consumptive, meaning non-fishing, recreation because other organizations are better suited to capture information on fishing. These studies provide a broad overview of ocean recreation and are used to ensure that ocean recreation is a consideration in ocean planning decisions. For example, Surfrider completed an ocean recreation study in Oregon to aid planning for offshore renewable energy (wind and wave energy) projects so they minimize impacts on ocean recreation.  We have plans to conduct similar projects in Washington and along the Mid-Atlantic region.

Wave Protection: The holy grail in protection of ocean recreation is to establish permanent protection by designating ocean recreation and surfing protected areas. Marine protected areas are one mechanism to protect ocean recreation and Surfrider has been involved in marine protection designations in Oregon, California and Puerto Rico. Surfing-specific protection areas are also emerging as a surf protection tool. There are efforts underway in New Zealand and Australia to protect surfing areas and the nascent World Surfing Reserve program has designated surfing reserves domestically in Malibu and Santa Cruz.

In combination, these efforts are developing important information about the value of coastal and ocean recreation and finding ways to ensure protect ocean recreation for the future