Economics of surfing: Case study at Trestles

When considering the economics of a wave, there are two important economic measures to keep in mind.

The first is economic impact, which can be measured in the market. This is spending by surfers when they visit a surf spot and represents the money a surf spot brings to the local economy. It answers the question, “How much money do visiting surfers contribute to the local economy?”

The second is the economic value. This is the “non-market value” of a surf spot to surfers who use it. This is a value that can’t be measured directly because we don’t pay a fee to enter the surf (parking fees don’t count). This value represents the societal value of a surf spot. Read here for more on the methods to measure the non-market value of surfing.

To date, our understanding of these values has been vague at best and as a result surfing has often been undervalued in past decisions. You can read about two cases here (.pdf).

Through research at Trestles, a famous surfing spot in Southern California, we have estimated both of these values.

Economic Impact of surfing at Trestles:

The waves at Trestles attract surfers from throughout Southern California who contribute to San Clemente’s local economy by spending money in town when they visit. They buy gas, eat at local restaurants, and shop in local stores. We know that 83 percent of the surfers who visit Trestles come from outside the city of San Clemente. Buy measuring these spending habits we can estimate the economic impact that Trestles has to the City of San Clemente.

Spending per each individual visit: $25-$40
Visitors: 330,000/ year
Total economic impact: $8-$13 million/ year

You can read a paper that provides more background on the economic impact of Trestles to the City of San Clemente here.

Economic value of surfing at Trestles:

Surfing at Trestles also has a non-market value, the value we would be willing to pay to surf at Trestles. Through the use of a non-market economics approached called the Travel Cost Model we estimated that the non-market value (as known as the consumer surplus) of surfing at Trestles is between $80 – $138 per individual visit. This is a conservative estimate because it only captures part of the “total economic value”.

Consumer surplus of each individual visit: $80
Visitors: 330,000/ year
Annual economic value: $26 million / year

You can read more about how these values were calculated here (Chapters 2 & 3).

Trestles is one of very few waves in the world where these these values have been measured. While the value of every wave will be a little different depending on it's individual qualities, this provides a reference point when considering the value of your favorite wave.

For more information and background on the economic values of recreation in California go here (See Chapter 1).