In 2014 Save the Waves Coalition conducted a Surfonomics study in Pichilemu, Chile, commissioned by the Provincial Department of the Interior Cardenal Caro. Pichilemu is considered Chile’s “surf city,” with an economy dependent on surf tourism. 

Because this area faces coastal access issues, unregulated coastal development, and a lack of waste management infrastructure, this study’s aim is to inform decision-makers of the economic contribution that surfing has on the region, and underscore the need for increased coastal protection.

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From January to March 2014, a survey was conducted in Pichilemu, Chile, that compiled expenditure data from 691 individual tourist surfers. The results of this data show that the average surfer spends approximately $160.00 US dollars a day while visiting the town of Pichilemu, Chile. Given the popularity of this surfing area, $160.00 per surfer per day will contribute a range of 1.6 – 6.4 million US dollars of revenue to the town of Pichilemu every year. This economic information displays that the sport of surfing contributes significantly to the local economy in Pichilemu and future economic gains are dependent on a high quality wave and pristine coastal environment. Fully understanding the economic importance of a quality surfing wave is essential to promote a level of corresponding practices of coastal conservation and robust environmental stewardship.


Over the survey period, 807 responses were collected with 116 individuals living in Pichilemu. Individuals living within Pichilemu were excluded from our economic analysis, leaving the economic information of 691 tourists. The demographic analysis shows over 90% of survey responders live in Chile (Table 1). Only 5.9% of responses are tourists from outside of South America. Further investigation yielded that a majority of Chilean tourists came from Santiago (60%). Chilean tourists also came from Rancagua (13%), San Fernando (4%), Talca (3%), Curicó (2%), La Serena (2%), among others.

The average surfer who visits Pichilemu is a 28 year old male, intermediate surfer from Santiago, Chile that went to college and makes between $16,000-$25,000 a year. It was found that 92% of the survey responses selected that surfing was the primary or a contributing factor to their visit in Pichilemu (Table 2).


Using a beach survey of surfers in Pichilemu, Chile we were able to quantify that an average surf tourist spends approximately $160.00 US dollars per day. Using the conservative estimate of 10,000 visitors per year, expenditure adds at least $1,596,000.00 to the local economy.

Given this is a low estimate for the most frequently visited surf spot in Chile as well as Argentina (as many Argentineans also travel to Pichilemu for surfing), the actual amount of expenditure this will add to the local economy is levels of magnitude greater than shown. What these figures mean for local income and government revenue from taxes should be of paramount importance. This direct spending contributes greatly to the local economy and thus has implications for coastal policy and preservation of the natural resources that stimulate this economic impact.

The social science of estimating value from a sport that is free of charge is, without question, difficult. However, the glimpse of proving that an average visiting surfer spends $160.00 US dollars a day in equipment, accommodation, meals, beverages, local transportation, etc. should make it abundantly clear how a world-class surfing wave effects a local economy.

If we had the ability to put a dollar amount on the intrinsic value of stress relief, joy, and social welfare that surfers receive from surfing, the total value of the wave would obviously skyrocket. Regardless, the economic significance of the surfing area alone necessitates careful consideration of the development and waste management of the surfing area so that the wave and surrounding environment can be protected for perpetuity.

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