Surfonomics Nosara: Surf Tourists' Potential to Contribute to Environmental Protection

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Maintaining healthy ecosystems often requires monetary resources, in developed and developing countries alike. These resources can, in part, come from businesses and activities that benefit from the ecosystems being maintained. For example, millions of surfers each year travel to beaches far from their homes in pursuit of the perfect wave (Mach and Ponting, 2020). Through expenditures on accommodations, food and activities, these surf tourists often provide some level of monetary benefit to the towns adjacent to the beach that is home to the wave they are chasing. However, the consumer surplus benefit that surfers enjoy from surfing itself is primarily unrealized and is not financially contributing to the preservation and conservation of the natural resources upon which these tourists depend. There are an abundance of studies trying to capture the surplus economic benefit of other ocean-related activities, such as fishing, diving, and beach-going, with little attention being paid to the economic benefit that surfers and surf tourists could provide (Nelson, 2007). Since surfing has grown “to become, after swimming, the most popular water sport in the world,” it is important to attempt to determine the economic benefit that surfers provide and how this might be leveraged to conserve integral ecosystems (Young, 1983).

The concept of “surfonomics,” the combination of surfing and economics, aims to determine the economic benefit that surfing brings to coastal communities. The goal of surfonomics is to use surfing as a conservation tool through both accounting for the economic benefit of surfing, while also appealing to the millions of surfers around the world.

The site for this study, Playa Guiones, is in the town of Nosara in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, along the Nicoya Peninsula on the west coast of the country. Nosara originally became popularized because of the plethora of yoga and wellness retreats that used Nosara as their destination. Further, Playa Guiones is a world class surfing destination, known for having some of the most consistently breaking waves in the world, accessible to all levels of surfers (Francis, 2021).

Nosara is the largest of the five Blue Zones in the world (Johnson). A Blue Zone is an area of the world where people, on average, live the longest and are the healthiest (History of Blue Zones, 2021). On top of the benefits from the yoga/ wellness and surfing communities, its designation as a Blue Zone has created a hyper-attractive destination for both tourists and expatriates. This increase in notoriety and tourism has come with a 42% increase in the level of development from 2017-2018 alone (Nosara Civic Association). The environmental effects of this increase in development are being seen through the salinization in aquifers in Nosara due to the large amount of water that the new construction requires (Nosara Civic Association).

The goal of this study is to determine if surf tourists can provide economic resources sufficient to protect the surf ecosystem at Playa Guiones in Nosara, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The study sought to answer this question through 1) conducting a survey analysis to determine each surfer’s willingness to pay a beach entrance fee in the low season (May-Dec) and 2) calculating the conservation finance gap in Playa Guiones and determining how many surf tourists would need to pay a fee each year in order to close it.

The specific methods used to achieve the study goal were as follows:

  1. Designing a survey and surveying surf tourists along Playa Guiones from June- August of 2022.
  2. Conducting analysis using regression models to determine which environmental attributes were most important to surf tourists.
  3. Obtaining conservation finance data from the Ostional Wildlife Refuge to determine if surf tourists would be able to provide money sufficient to close the conservation finance gap that exists along Playa Guiones.

The results from this study show that the two most important environmental attributes to surf tourists are high levels of beach cleanliness and low levels of new development in Playa Guiones. Further, the study shows that closing the conservation finance gap along Playa Guiones with the introduction of a $7 daily beach entrance fee is feasible.





Dixon, Natalie (2023). Surfonomics Nosara: Surf Tourists' Potential to Contribute to Environmental Protection. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.