The law and economics of surfing

When oh when will this be a Journal of Law and Economics piece?  Here is one excerpt:

The norms (for visitors) of mild localism include:

1) Don’t arrive in a large group[156]

2) Ease into the lineup (don’t compete aggressively too early)[157]

3) Let locals surf most of the best set waves[158]

4) Take extra caution to avoid violating any ordinary surf norms (i.e. don’t get in a local’s way!)

Together, these concrete norms can implement the abstract norm of ‘respect the locals’. Observing these norms demonstrates deference to the locals and helps mitigate the effects of crowding for the locals.

Here is the full treatment, the piece is interesting throughout though it starts off a bit slow with the familiar.  Thanks to Hugh for the pointer.


This reminds me of a Tom Bell blog post about surfing and property rights from a few years ago: here.

After having dealt with some of the most intense surf localism during grad school in Santa Cruz, I can say the rules are consistently enforced. The steps down to Steamer Lane have etiquette rules of the lineup listed for visitors.

The basic motivation of a limited resource is obvious, but this means that the rules change based on the level of demand. With popularization and shift out in the demand curve, rules get more stringent so there's an excuse to force someone out at nearly all times from the top spots. While the novice from San Jose or the new undergrad flailing might be a quick and easy target, there's plenty of intra-local conflict too.

Short-boarders hate longboarders because they can catch waves sooner and are easier to control (=potentially less experienced surfers), same for kayaks and bodyboarders. Then it moves to parts of town, with eastside-westside rivalries, tenure (not just living in Santa Cruz but for how long, were you born there, even were your parents born there). New excuses to exclude and enforce violently will keep coming.

It sounds like they need to charge a LOT more to get into the beach.

his axiom -- "one surfer per wave" -- is so out of date as to be quaint, as least in most of the U.S., mexico, etc. (many, many breaks are zoos now, every wave a party wave as anyone and everyone tries to get up (even if people may ultimately to someone barrelling down upon them).

There was an interesting e-fight on an Irish message board recently on this kind of thing. Somebody posted up a list of "secret surfing spots" which local surfers did not take kindly to. Of course the surfers claimed they were simply ensuring the safety of amateurs because, you know, some waves can be way out, dude.

Long story short: the surfers physically threatened the moderator of the forum. The message board community did not appreciate this and have now created a map on Google Earth and circulated it to an awful lot of people.

I love the hubris of it all.


Those are great norms. I totally agree! Don't get in the way of the locals!

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