Spring Swell: What causes surfing to be so expensive?

Yesterday, I was catching up with the latest heats in the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic, hosted in a coastal suburb of Sydney, Australia. The men’s Round of 32 boasted beautiful conditions — clear blue water, bright sunny skies and, of course, limited restrictions due to New South Wales’ coronavirus handling.

What would it take to get us there (if the question of travel was no issue)? Some quick Google searches brought up $2,800+ single roundtrip plane tickets, Airbnb’s for around $80 a night and who knows how many dollars you’d need to put away for equipment and transportation. The expenses add up quickly and push you to spend in order to be involved in the sport. 

Ask anyone at an Australian beach and they’ll tell you their anecdotes about filling out their first set of gear. Down there, you can’t just grab a board and go when two-thirds of the year is spent with water below 60 degrees. You’ll need the board, the swimsuits, the wetsuits, leash, fins, wax and whatever else your local surf shop can convince you that you need. Even getting these items pre-owned still leaves a gap in your wallet — but why is this a problem?

It’s not difficult to make the connection between having a surplus of money and the amount of leisure time you afford yourself. This is a privilege in and of itself, allowing some wealthier individuals the opportunity to invest more into their gear, time and enjoyment of the sport. 

I’m not saying you need to be wealthy to enjoy surfing, but when you pull back the curtain on programs that offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like maybe a surf trip to the Maldives or a go at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool, money can make two very different experiences out of the same activity. 

An important aspect of this cost analysis that many people forget is time and space. For people who live farther inland, possibly in densely populated areas that afford little to no green space, natural environments like the beach are not quickly accessible. Not entirely related but an uncomfortable sibling to the “mission trip,” is the trip professionals make to lower-income or native communities to “bring” surfing to them with a handful of free gear and a photo op. Indeed, it is profitable to publicize wealth gaps within the sport. 

The World Health Organization’s European office conducted a study into the positive outcomes derived from urban green space and health, including reduced morbidity and mortality rates, reduced exposure to air pollution and supportive social environments. In any conversation involving the expansion of Los Angeles’ public transportation infrastructure, the topic of connecting urban spaces to the city’s beautiful beaches should be on the docket. 

A survey of over 10,000 people in Europe showed a correlation between an individual’s informedness about ocean pollution and their care for its improvement. With projections pointing to there being more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, direct community interaction can hopefully increase awareness and prioritizing of these issues and combat marine conservation degradation.

Instead of contributing to a use-and-lose mentality when it comes to surf equipment and gear, popularizing surfboard resellers like the SurfboardBroker in our very own Carlsbad, Calif. can encourage the surfing community to reuse, reduce and recycle. The plastics that go into making surf equipment are harmful enough to the environment, and educating enthusiasts on what they can do with their leftovers can keep less waste out of the ocean.

Although surfing maybe isn’t  the sport on everyone’s radar, it can be worth the investment to narrow the gaps between those who can afford to do it and those who cannot. The greatest opportunities and lessons come from what is free, and the more we can give back to our environment the more fruitful it will be. 

Lauren Mattice is a senior writing about surfing. She is also the digital managing editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Spring Swell,” runs every other Monday.