Top Trending Spa Sport: Surfing | Sports Destination Management

Top Trending Spa Sport: Surfing

Dovetails with Explosive Numbers in Sports Tourism as well as Uptick in Outdoor Exercise, Intro as Olympic Sport
Jan 27, 2016 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When the 2016 version of the annual "Spa and Wellness Trends Report" was released, its findings that surfing was at the top of the trending wave in travel rocked the meeting planning world.

Memo from sports planners: duh.

Surfing – and board sports in general – have been growing in popularity. According to the results of the report, there’s surf tourism in 167 countries, and the economy of the sport rakes in more than $130 billion annually.

So for a sport that gained a toehold in the public consciousness when the Beach Boys harmonized about it more than 50 years ago (yes, really, half a century), it’s become its own industry. Its appearance atop the list of sports popular in spas and wellness facilities, therefore, is hardly a surprise.

A number of trends feed into the growth of the surf industry. Earlier in the year, the American College of Sports Medicine released its Worldwide Survey of Top Fitness Trends. Figuring prominently was outdoor sports. Some Americans, it seems, are less interested in gym memberships and want to spend some time getting fit in the great outdoors, and options like water sports are a perfect example.

In addition, organizers of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo have announced that they will be asking the IOC to consider five sports, including surfing, another move that will surely boost visibility.

Ultimately, surfing – and related sports including stand-up paddleboarding, wakeboarding, skim boarding, body boarding, knee boarding, kite surfing and windsurfing, as well as others – tend to draw a youthful crowd. Those who want to try them can do so at resort properties (leading to their popularity in the Spa and Wellness Report), but sports tourism for them continues to expand at the professional level.

Some board sports, such as wakeboarding, are featured in the Pan Am Games and World Games (held in varying locations) while surfing offers a host of competitions, including the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing at Hawaii’s North Shore and the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing at  Huntington Beach, California.

One of the reason for surfing’s increased popularity on the health and fitness circuit is its whole-body benefit. According the report, Tony De Leede, founder of Australia’s famed Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, has noted, “Paddling delivers intense cardio expenditure, as it builds arm, shoulder and back strength; popping up and down on the board engages all core muscles; balancing builds leg strength and flexibility. It’s interval training: aerobic bursts, followed by rest. It’s low-impact, functional cross training, covering things it would take many machines and classes to do.”

Medical studies also show surfing prevents depression/stress. And if surfers are perpetually ‘stoked,’ studies suggest why: wave turbulence releases charged ions into the atmosphere, which release endorphins in people.

Surfing and wellness venues have sprung up to meet the needs of the surf tourist. While previously, such travel was limited to surf camps, which really only appealed to diehard surfers, today’s experiences cater to wellness-seeking and women surfers, who have more disposable income. Properties originally focused on surfing are adding wellness experiences (from yoga to spas), while resorts at great surf breaks are adding surfing schools. It’s a smart move: when the waves aren’t breaking, it gives guests much to do, and keeps the “surf widow” (who may now be a man), happy and healthy.

In addition, the sport has moved outside California and Hawaii to the other U.S. coast, from Maine, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, making it possible to host competitive events in a wider area. And man-made surf parks have brought board sports to other areas of the country as well – something the industry at USA Water Ski has known for years. (A new surf park is planned for Austin, Texas, for example.)

Surfing and board sports resonate with different populations. The sports have made great inroads as outlets for athletes with disabilities. In addition, Bethany Hamilon, who competes as an able-bodied surfer despite losing an arm in a shark attack more than a decade ago, recently made headlines for surfing Jaws, one of the biggest and most intimidating waves off Maui.

The trend of surfing also ties in with the whole ‘voluntourism’ movement. The report notes, “Within surfing culture there has been a strong ethic of (and many organizations around) protecting the ocean environment and controlling runaway coastal development. Economists have even pioneered “Surfnomics” to quantify the monetary value of public beaches, as a weapon against over-development.

And as surfing (and surf resorts) get built out in so many new nations, philanthropic organizations (from Peru’s “Waves for Development” to Panama’s “Give and Surf”) are forming to ensure that the armies of surfers descending actually benefit local communities. So as surfing booms, sustainable surf development will become even more crucial in the future, from controlling coastal development to ensuring surf travelers benefit the local community.”

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