When most people think of surfing, they think of California, and vice versa. Trestles, Malibu, Rincon, the Surfing Hall of Fame, The Beach Boys, Taylor Steele, The US Open of Surfing… these are all things that are uniquely Californian.
There isn’t a region on earth that has had more of an effect on the development of surfing culture than the coast that stretches between San Diego and Santa Cruz.
In fact, Southern California was the first place surfing spread to outside of Hawai’i. In early 1907, an enterprising railroad tycoon named Henry Huntington (also the namesake of Huntington Beach) hired Hawaiian surfer George Freeth to surf the waves of Redondo Beach in order to put the town on the map. Huntington’s plan worked, and people flocked from all over the sparsly populated southern California region to see a man “walk on water.” Surfing had hit the mainland. (Imagine, Rincon and Lowers were just just a couple hours away and completely empty.)
Given California’s surfing history and the fact that it’s the center of the surfing industry, then almost every surfer on the ASP World Tour should be from California right? Or at least the majority should be from California? Well actually, only 4 of the top 34 surfers are from California. Even Brazil has more World Tour Surfers, with 8.
I thought this was a little strange, so I decided to dig a littler deeper. Could it be a number’s thing? Brazil has a bigger population and therefore more likely to produce quality surfers? Could it be that they’re just more athletic? More talented? More driven?
The “pro surfer to population” ratio.
To test the “bigger population = more chances of producing a pro surfer” theory I created the “pro surfers to population ratio.” This ratio essentially shows how many pro surfers are from a region for every 1M (one million) people in that region.
The equation is (World Tour Surfers from region X ÷ Coastal Population of region X)*1,000,000 = ratio
- First, I found out how many ASP World Tour Surfers are from each region: Australia, Brazil, California, Florida and Hawai’i. See “caveats” for why I left out France, Tahiti, South Africa and Portugal from the ratio.
- Second, I researched the number of people living “near” the coast in each region, or the coastal population. I figured that people living near the ocean all have the potential to learn to surf, or to at least try it a few times. I divided the number of World Tour Surfers from each region by that region’s coastal population and multiplied the result by 1,000,000 to give a nice round number.
- Third, I assigned a ranking to each region. The higher the ratio number, the better the region is at producing World Tour Surfers.
Coastal Populations of each Region
80% of Brazil’s 197 million people live within 235 miles of the coast, or about 157M people.
68% of California’s population live near the coast (defined as people living in a county adjacent to the coast), or about 25.8M people.
5M people live in counties adjacent to Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
The population of Hawai’i is 1.4M (all live near the coast).
19.2M of Australia’s 22.6M people live within 31 miles of the coast.
Calculating the Ratio
Taking the number of World Tour Surfers from each region, and dividing by that region’s coastal population to get the ratio of pro surfer to population, or the number of pro surfers for every 1M people. In theory this should give us an idea of the most “talented” population of surfers.
- Brazil – (8 ÷ 157,000,000)*1,000,000 = 0.050955
- California – (4 ÷ 25,800,000)*1,000,000 = 0.15504
- Florida – (3 ÷ 5,000,000)*1,000,000=0.6
- Hawai’i – (3 ÷ 1,500,000)*1,000,000=2
- Australia – (14 ÷ 19,200,000)*1,000,000=0.7292
Pro Surfers per capita ranking
- Hawai’i – No surprise here. The sport was invented here, and surfing is the State’s official individual sport (outrigger canoe racing is the State’s official team sport).
- Australia – Again, not really a surprise here. Surfing is huge in Australia. Contests are broadcast on live TV and pro surfers are treated like celebrities.
- Florida – This is a little bit surprising. The best surfer of all-time is from Florida (Kelly Slater Cocoa Beach, Florida) but I thought he might be an outlier. Two more Florida Legends, CJ and Damien Hobgood help Florida with a high ratio.
- California – Although California has a massive surfing population, it has an even bigger non-surfing population. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego are all huge urban centers right next to the ocean, and this definitely affected the ratio. (Sorry for the excuse, but I have to support my home state!)
- Brazil – Although Brazilians have a come a long way in the sport of Surfing, there is still plenty of room for improvement. 2011 was a big year for Brazilian surfers, with Adriano winning one event and then-tour-rookie Gabe Medina winning two events. But the following year did not see any Brazilians as event winners.
Which region do you think produces the best surfers? Leave your answer the comments section below.
ASP World Tour Surfing Infographic
Pro Surfers Map
This map shows where each ASP World Tour surfer was born.Caveats: Sample size of World Tour Surfers is Small. So even a single surfer changes the significantly affect the ratio (for example, if Hawai’i had one less pro surfer their ration would of dropped from 2 to 1.333). Also, of course not all people living near the ocean have an opportunity to surf because of socio-economic reasons. Finally, the term “near the coast” varies slightly by each region. In short, this isn’t science people!
Omitted from results calculations were Tahiti and France (Reunion Island) because of a low population samples size. South Africa and Portugal were omitted from the calculations because of of a lack of coastal population data.