It’s no secret that surfing and surf tourism contribute significantly to national income in countries with surfable coastlines around the world. In fact, an article published last year in Costa Rica’s La Prensa Libre quantified surfing’s contribution to national GDP at an estimated $800 million annually with surfers representing nearly a quarter of all tourists entering Costa Rica each year. National revenue from tourism is second only to that of Costa Rica’s thriving services sector, surpassing income from export crops like coffee, bananas and pineapple. As the country’s second most lucrative industry, the dollar value of tourism in Costa Rica is estimated at $1.92 billion a year, a significant percentage of which is directly attributed to surf tourism, since nearly a quarter of all tourists entering the country mention surfing as among their primary reasons for visiting, as reported by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).
Beyond Costa Rica, the surf tourism phenomenon has taken coastal communities by storm, spanning 161 countries and representing the fastest growing sector of the booming global surf industry, itself valued between $70 and $130 billion dollars annually. In a small country like Costa Rica, with a population still below 5 million, a sum like $800 million a year should indeed catch our attention, especially when income poverty is estimated near 30 percent of the country’s population. Logically then, promoting surf tourism might be seen as a useful strategy for poverty alleviation and development because many of Costa Rica’s best surf destinations happen to also be home to some of the country’s income-poorest residents.