What do you do if you’re a big surfer and local officials or developers alter the environment in such a way that the waves are no longer special? The changes are usually the result of new development or some other benefit (like restoring beaches) that either brings more jobs or improves the lives of more people than just the surfers.
Surfers want to combat such changes and protect the waves. They’ve done so for decades on the basis of protecting natural environments and purity of beach shores. But any environmentalist will tell you that while this is a noble cause, it doesn’t lead to many victories. Developers and officials speak in dollars:
“In a new strategy, Nelsen and a handful of other surf intellectuals are letting go of lofty environmentalist rhetoric and fighting economics with economics.” (link below)
That’s right. Surf intellectuals. Surfing enthusiasts are starting to fight fire with fire. Historically, surfers would travel the world looking for the greatest waves in undiscovered areas. Once they find them they’re no longer undiscovered. The surfing spots grow in popularity, then tourism, then development. As the economy develops, the ecology suffers and the forces that create the special waves dwindle.
So the surfing intellectuals are teaming up with economists to find out how much value surfing brings to the region. Much of the economic impact comes from just the travel to and from the beach with the waves. That can include the need for gas, equipment, lodging, food, and parking. And the average surfer shouldn’t be underestimated. One study found the median surfer is 34 and makes $75,000 a year. These are not the 21 year old bums you think of.
The studies are used to combat some of the development that would otherwise occur. So if a developer says they can bring $15 million in new economic activity but a surfing foundation can say it would wipe out $20 million that already exists, they can make their case for preserving the current status. The math won’t always work out in their favor, but it may not have to either. The important thing is that surfers trying to preserve the waves are now speaking the same language as government officials and developers.
Activists with any cause should take a page from these “surf intellectuals”. All too ofte then try to win over arguments against development on the grounds of climate change and other arguments that are hard for everyone to conceptualize.
You’ll never win a fight unless you speak your opponent’s language.