What is Surfing Ecology?

Together surfing and marine ecology can create significant synergy and help develop a focus on unique issues facing marine life, ocean health, marine conservation, and coastal issues. While some of the possible areas of overlap are not new to surfing nor marine ecology, the unity of these fields helps to identify new focal areas, key gaps in our knowledge, and a direction for future work.

For example, the largest environmental surfing organization, Surfrider, is a large and highly effective global environmental organization with 84 chapters, including over 250,000 members in the U.S.  Moreover, Surfrider is very effective in advocating for beach access, clean water, protecting beaches and surf spots from development, and promoting coastal and ocean health. However, there are additional issues important to surfers that are more relevant to marine ecologists. These include global climate change, habitat destruction, ecosystem studies, and fishery management, among others. As envisioned, surfing ecologists would support and extend Surfrider’s programs and policies as well as other surfing-oriented environmental groups, not compete with them.

Hence, there is existing overlap between existing environmental surfing organizations as well as new areas for future work. Here’s a few examples:

Physical and geological oceanography: Surfline in general, and Sean Collins in particular, were instrumental in developing wave forecasting models directed at surfers based on weather forecasts, ocean buoy reports, computer models, and a network of surfing observers. Collins was also instrumental in examining the geological structure of  reefs and how they interacted with swell height, direction and period to predict times and places for good waves. Although the overall merits of providing these forecasting tools to surfers are debatable, they have increased the ability of surfers to seek and find good waves across the globe, more reliably schedule surf contests, and understand how ocean swell and direction affect local surf spots. However, despite these advances, these approaches fall short of utilizing the full range of potential in these focus areas, especially with regards to integrating marine life and living components of reefs into these topics.


Chemistry and biology: Surfrider and other groups, such as Heal the Bay in California, have been instrumental in addressing water quality issues in coastal waters throughout the world including chemical pollution, sewage discharges and biological contamination, and ocean dumping including trash and plastics. However, because these efforts are probation focused on protecting surfers, marine life also benefits but many challenges remain (see Ocean Conservation for Surfers).

Coastal communities from Alaska to southern California have helped WHOI marine chemist Ken Buesseler to monitor marine radioactivity levels. In the image above, surfers gather a water sample at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California. (Courtesy of Robin Brune)

Next Section -> see examples