“Surfing is no longer a youth sport inextricably tied to youth culture.”
A landmark study just released by Bond University, Australia’s first private college and named after a notorious swindler, has revealed surfing ain’t the plaything of kids anymore.
Craig Sims, who is a former South African pro surfer turned magazine publisher and university academic (he has a PHD in Media Studies from Bond), says the peak participation age for men is 45-to-49 (I added the bit about CIS and white in the headline…clickbait etc… you understand) and 35-to-44 for gals.
“This clear and present aging trend forces us to accept an important and far-reaching statement: Surfing is no longer a youth sport inextricably tied to youth culture. Failing to accept this statement will result in surf brands missing out on forging a meaningful connection with a significant and growing segment of their market.”
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
A few weeks back I went to the premiere of The Greatest Surf Movie in the Universe, the most significant thing to happen culturally in Australian surfing since Kai Neville’s films, and the cinema was a sea of polished skulls and silver manes, paunches harnessed by Quiksilver tees. So many wizened winter apples. The median age, at a guess, would’ve been sixty.
In lineups, there’s a few kids here and there, mostly tweenies getting pushed into waves by their daddies, but the absence of teens marauding the surf is stark.
The ageing of the sport next to the influx of late-starting kooks ’cause of COVID and the rise of the murfer has enormous implications for the surf industry, says Sims.
“There’s…potential for surf tourism operators to tap into a whole new breed of customer by accommodating travel demand from unskilled surfers who don’t have the proficiency to handle the hollow and shallow reef breaks typically associated with remote or exotic surf locations.”
Even wave pool operators have to cool their jets ’cause their customers are either old, incapable or both.
“Most wave parks have the capacity to create technically challenging waves, yet they tend to only offer these settings in the very early and late part of their operating hours and the bulk of their day is dedicated to novice and intermediate settings.”
You’ll remember a couple of years back when the organisers of a surfing contest in New Zealand were been forced to add a new age-group after an eighty-year-old kneeboarder signed up. To accommodate older surfers, those aged seventy-five to seventy-nine, there now exists the division, “Immortals”.
All very interesting, of course, although I doubt I would go near surfing if I was twelve again, such is its decline from wild, atavistic man-against-the-elements lifestyle to its current Surfline Man goes to Surf Ranch incarnation.
Where do you stand? Is surfing a declining sport for old men and relatively aged gals or does it stand on the precipice of a great renaissance, rebirth etc?