Mavericks is valuable, ‘Surfonomics’ study not so much

Confidence is further eroded when you look at who was doing the data collection–who was giving the surveys. Getting good data, unbiased by any pre-conclusion, is key to any study. However neither of

the two authors, both junior faculty from the University of Hawaii, took part in the data collection. That was left to the study sponsor, the Save the Waves Coalition, an advocacy group whose explicit goal is to demonstrate the economic value of natural environments in order to aid in their preservation.They also helped choose the questions used in the survey.

The intention of the sponsors is honorable–to apply economic reasoning to preserve the coast. As the study’s authors point out, too often areas such as Mavericks are assumed to have a value of zero since a calculation of monetary value is frightfully difficult. This lack of data distorts decision-making by policy makers who all too often compare alternatives (say, development vs. non- development) in monetary terms.

Unfortunately, no matter how sincere and dedicated members of Save the Waves might be they are not unbiased researchers.

The study is flawed, perhaps grossly so. Aside from the difficulties inherent in trying to measure something as immeasurable as the value of a wave the study doesn’t define what it is studying, it appears to grossly exaggerate the number of people visiting Mavericks, and it allows a group with a vested interest in the outcome to collect the data.

However, the study’s overall valuation might not be far off. It might even be too low.

In one important way the study is quite conservative, limiting its analysis in determining the value of a visit to essentially what the visitor spent. It did not take into account the very real secondary effects of that spending–that much of the money spent on hotels, food, and gas goes to people who live here who then “re-spend” the money. The result is a multiplier effect that echoes through the coast’s economy.

Ironically, the recent “rogue wave” which splashed into spectators at the Mavericks surf contest may have increased the monetary value of the big waves. An examination of news stories shows that coverage of the rogue wave greatly exceeded coverage of the contest itself. If that greater coverage translates into greater awareness of Mavericks among visitors to the Bay area our local economy will be the beneficiary.

The irony? That rogue wave might end up being more valuable than the fifty-foot ones offshore.

You can download the study here.

Illustration by Darin Boville, Photo of Mavericks by Lori Boville

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