How has surfing affected your life? Even if you’ve never picked up a surfboard, it is likely that you have been influenced by surf culture in one way or another. Between music, films, fashion and other types of media, people connect and identify with surfing regardless of real life experience or distance from the ocean. Tunes by The Beach Boys, Endless Summer on film, the countless surf brands on the shelves in Middle America malls, are all reminders of surfing’s aspirational pull. However, the majority of people with these aspirations still lack the most important element to surfing: reliable waves.
Luckily, between bright engineers, astute businesspeople and zealous developers who all share a similar passion, the surf park industry was formed to bring waves inland and meet the demand for surfing around the world. Wave Pool Mag estimates that there are about 150-200 surf parks in planning globally. With those numbers, it is clear that wave pools are taking the world by storm. We are in a global surf park development boom – and are officially entering the era of wave pools and inland surfing.
Surf is Reaching the Masses
Surfing’s growth has been rapidly on the rise since the surf media influence of the 1960s and the commercialization of the industry in the 70s and 80s. But, recent years have shown us that surf is truly starting to go mainstream. What exactly is driving this? Social media, the Olympics, newfound aspirations during the COVID-19 pandemic? All of the above. Plus, we know that the technological advancements in wave pools and the rise of inland surf facilities are also starting to bring surf to the masses.
In total, recent estimates by the International Surfing Association (ISA) suggests that there are between 20 – 35 million surfers worldwide. As U.S. and Australian surf populations are estimated to be around 6-7 million, although large, they only equate to about only 20-35% of worldwide estimates. This leaves nearly 70% to be accounted for across regions. Diving deeper into large numbers like these, and we can see some serious growth in the sport…
- US Surf Population is up 94% in the last 17 years.
- The Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) states that 1 out of every 100 people take part in the sport.
- In 1995, there were 32 member nations of the ISA. Today there are more than 100.
- There are now more women and girls enjoying the sport than ever before. In the US, females accounted for 35% of all surfers – an increase of about half a million in just a decade.
- STAB Mag estimates that local lineups are now 35% more crowded than before COVID (we can attest by simple observation!)
The number of surf fans is on the rise as well, with an estimated 120 million worldwide…
- The WSL’s 2022 Rip Curl Finals was the most watched in history, surpassing 2021 by 22%.
- There is even a 13% increase in digital audiences for regular-season CT events.
- Italo Ferreira gained 1.3 million followers on social media after taking gold in the Tokyo Games
Pretty staggering numbers, right? It’s clear that surf is exploding. And, these numbers are only going to grow with the development of surf parks around the world to meet the unprecedented demand for waves in both core surf regions and inland surf deserts, or regions without any access to surfing.
Developers and Investors are Capitalizing on Surf
The surf park development boom will be written about in the surf history books. We’ll even make an argument for the economics books, as there are serious macroeconomic benefits that communities get when capitalizing surf. Oxford University economists Thomas McGregor and Samuel Wills found that “high-quality waves generate economic activity worth $50 billion per year globally.” This translates to about $20 million yearly for each specific region with well-known surf spots. Imagine what a surf park with perfect and customizable waves on-command could do for the economy of your city or town.
On a micro level, developers and investors in projects are realizing the healthy returns that surf parks can bring a variety of project types. Residential developments, hotels & resorts, mixed-use retail, and even golf courses are capitalizing on what surf can offer. Wave pools are not just any another amenity, they will:
- Elevate real estate values
- Anchor masterplans
- Attract new demographics
- Create customer loyalty and repeat visitation
- Diversify revenue streams
- Drive economic growth and create jobs
Plus, surfing is sure to bring heart and soul to any development type. Surf culture reaches far beyond the coast and is rooted in community and the lifestyle that is centered around the stoke of riding waves.
2023 and Beyond… The Era of Inland Surfing
Surfing has an indescribable allure to it – just ask any of the millions of surfers around the world. The buzz you get when catching a wave and feeling the power of water underneath your feet is what gets surfers hooked. Few activities provide that sort of payout and surfing is one of them. Technology will never replace the feeling of surfing in the ocean, but surf parks are a perfect solution to the fickleness of Mother Nature. With aspirations for surfing at an all-time high and current surfers stoked about the idea of perfect waves on-command, surf parks can offer that indescribable feeling over and over again for newcomers and experts alike. We’re pretty confident that any venue that capitalizes on adding a wave pool will attract the masses that our booming industry is starting to reach.
All in all, with more deals to be signed and more parks to open in 2023 (including waves of own at SURFTOWN MUC) it will absolutely be major year for inland surfing. Beyond that however, we can’t help but look ahead to the next decade in the surf park industry and those 150-200 surf lagoons that are in the works. Plus, with many new projects yet to be included in that tally, we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. There’s truly a lot to look forward to as a surfer in this day and age as the surf park industry is finding its stride. You better buckle up for the era of inland surfing and the exciting years that are about to come.