The Global Wave Conference is the largest gathering of surf focused conservation organizations in the world, and serves to link efforts to protect surf breaks and marine and coastal environments. written by Jess Ponting, PhD
In the first week of October, I was honored to be invited to deliver a keynote address to the Global Wave Conference in Peniche, Nazaré & Ericeira – home to a multitude of world class surf breaks.
A significant focus of this year’s conference was the funding and financing of surf break conservation. Based on research that demonstrates that surf tourists want sustainability and conservation built-in to their tourism experiences, and that they are willing to pay for it at much higher rates than non-surfing tourists, I made the case that surf tourism can be leveraged to help fund conservation and protected area management and administration.
After presenting a few different cases of surf tourism taxes and levies already in existence, I suggested that surf parks might be a potential source of funding in the future given that surf park visitors want opportunities to be connected to environmental issues impacting coastal and marine ecosystems (the 2023 Consumer Trends Report shows this categorically, and across different user groups and demographics).
I pointed out that many surf parks are now energy positive, like the Wave, Bristol (pictured below), water positive, and situated on previously contaminated urban brownfield sites. While their opposition remained steadfast I think it is now transparently philosophical rather than scientific.
In a side conversation, one member was most concerned about marauding hordes of surf park trained newbies arriving at ‘their’ surf breaks. Another sent me an anonymous message asking how I could possibly be in support of surf parks if I truly love waves – a question it seems to me answers itself.
I’m still not sure why an organization mandated to protect surfing resources has an opinion on recreation anchored real estate developments that are often hundreds of miles from the ocean. The opposition puts them in the 1% of surfers that have no interest in using a surf park and at odds with organizations such as Conservation International, Sustainable Surf, STOKE, and Surfrider USA, who are all actively working with or working towards forming partnerships with surf parks to support their conservation work.
During the sustainability panel in the virtual Surf Park Summit in 2020, CEO of Surfrider USA Chad Nelson and Executive Director of WSL PURE (World Surf League’s philanthropic arm) Reece Pacheco, talked about a Surfrider Foundation activation at the WSL Surf Ranch during a pro-surfing competition. After Surfrider’s first athlete ambassador and 1977 world champion Shaun Tomson and Chad spoke on stage at the Ranch, they went on to have their most successful day for new signups in their 40 year history.
Personally, I’d love to see Surfrider Foundation Europe participate constructively in the surf park conversation and align around a new vehicle for raising environmental awareness across Europe.
Surf parks have the promise to bring surfing to non-coastal communities, along with economic development, jobs, tourism revenue, and potentially entirely new demographics of surf conservationists across the continent.
In the meantime, a host of surf focused conservation NGOs are eager to find innovative ways to partner with surf parks interested in sustainability leadership market positions and I’m really excited to see where it goes.
Conference attendees scored great waves between panels. I even had the opportunity to have local big wave legends Joao de Macedo and Miguel Blanco take a couple of conservation NGO friends and I out to Nazare on jet skis for a tow session (it was not 100ft).