The largest challenge for community surfing and surf tourism, is balancing surfer volumes with unpredictable and often poor-quality waves. High quality waves require the alignment of a complex array of factors including swell, size, period, direction, tide, local wind direction and strength, and bathymetry. Surf parks control the uncontrollable: crowd numbers, perfect wave heights and shapes for any ability, on-demand. Surf park operators solely manage and regulate the service, providing a guaranteed surf experience for customers free from crowd pressure, localism controversies, wave variability and the ocean’s threats.
Surfer numbers are exploding!
Surfing is practiced by approximately 35 million people and participation is estimated to be growing at 30% per year (International Surfing Association). The primary factor driving growth is the push by surfing equipment makers, marketers, and associations to make surfing much more approachable than it’s ever been, a major role of surf parks for the future. Increased accessibility and affordability have drawn significant number of surfing participants and attracted wider demographic clusters subscribing to the lifestyle which focuses on wellness, movement, and outdoor experience.
In beach carparks and line-ups across the globe, there's a consistent anecdotal observation from surfers that there's more of us than ever before since the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the data is starting to surface supporting what so many of us have seen. A recent sports participation report from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) estimated a spike of over 200,000 surfers during the pandemic, and the majority (118,000) were women, third overall in fastest-growing activities (Surf Coast Times, 2022).
As an industry, the changes seen over the past few years have boosted global sector estimates to US$4 billion to the year-end 2022, and is projected to reach a size of US$4.8 billion by 2027, according to a recent report investment analysis group, Report Link. Coupled with surf tourism the continued demand for surfing equipment, apparel and experiences as a growing category could reach US$130 billion (O’Brien & Eddie, 2013). As Dr. Jess Ponting explains in Surf Park Central's detailed wave technology selection report (2021), The Gold Coast generates over USD$600 million each year from surf tourism, and a 2016 study found a February swell event was estimated to have delivered a USD$15M boost to the local economy through additional surf tourism (Ponting / Surf Park Central, 2021).
The inclusion of surfing in the Olympics also introduced the sport to entirely new audiences and its network engagement numbers – a total of 1.6 billion engagements – outperformed traditional sports like golf, cycling, volleyball and swimming (Boardsportsource, 2021). Its consistent growth has spurred non-endemic brands like Woolworths, Jeep, Corona, Samsung, and broadcasters like Apple+ and NBC to align with athletes, competitions, and the sport’s core ethos.
There are 2.5M recreational surfers in Australia and 57% are between 35 to 64.
NSW dominates surfing participation with 42.94% of surfers residing in the Wisemans Surf Lodge Market.
An estimated 20% of adult surfers in NSW have an income over $150K and leading occupation role types are management board / executive and owner, partner or proprietor.
A 2014 Roy Morgan study confirmed surfing has the second-highest participation rate for aquatic sports (behind swimming) in age groups 14+ and higher participation than Australian Rules and Rugby codes.
Surfing is an extremely sticky hobby, less than 3% indicate they’re likely to stop in 12 months.
The role of Surf Parks
The innovation of the chairlift democratised access to the ski mountain, cemented the skiing industry and exploded development opportunities of supporting amenity including accomodation, food and beverage and residential. New performance levels of wave making technology have made this surfing’s ski resort-moment, considering the potential value in infrastructure, hospitality and commercial opportunities surrounding on-demand, perfect waves. The underlying value of global wave venue properties is projected to be $7.1B by 2027 (Ponting / Surf Park Central, 2021). Globally, there are currently 10 wave parks open and operating with 8-15 under construction and a further 50 in planning.
But the approval process, cost-to-build and suitable property sites will see surf park development numbers similar to airports. Once a project stakes a flag in a region, there’s a dis-incentive for other projects to take flight. Where Wisemans Surf Lodge becomes even more unique is it’s enabling retail investors the opportunity to enter the asset class and invest at the property-ownership-level in the early days of an exciting, growing category.