Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Researchers taking a closer look at Wilmington’s surfing community

Are you a surfer, or do you know one? This research study is taking a closer look at the relationship between surfers and the waves they ride.

Researchers from Virginia are asking for local surfers to complete a survey to help them better understand surfers interactions with their breaks (Port City Daily/Cory Mannion)
Researchers from Virginia are asking for local surfers to complete a survey to help them better understand surfers interactions with their breaks. (Port City Daily/Cory Mannion)

WILMINGTON — While North Carolina might not be the first place people think of when they think about surfing, the sport is certainly a part of life for residents and visitors alike. Lindsay Usher, an assistant professor for Old Dominion University in Virginia, is hoping to learn more about the role that surfing and surfers play in their coastal environment.

Usher, along with her student Ian Sellers, are hoping to get an inside look at what makers surfers tick in the Wilmington area through an online survey.

“The purpose of the study is to explore the connections surfers have to the places they surf, and how that might influence their interactions with others in those places, how they take care of those places (environmental ethic), perceptions of constraints to accessing those places, and their opinions on the changing nature of those places,” Usher said.

According to Usher, surfers typically have a connection to their local breaks (the places they surf) and in some locations, surfers can become territorial towards what they perceive to be “their” break.

“I am hoping to achieve a better picture of surfers’ experiences in North Carolina and Virginia. I think it will be interesting to see the differences between the regions in each state too. Do surfers experience more localism in North Carolina or Virginia? Are Outer Banks surfers more attached to their surf breaks than Wilmington surfers? These are some of the questions we’ll be able to explore. Surfing is a huge part of coastal culture in North Carolina and Virginia, and there has been very little research on surfers in both places,” she said.

Usher is also hoping to find out how things like beach nourishment are affecting surfers and their local breaks.

“… Surfers are practically amateur oceanographers and very aware of changing beach/ocean conditions. With beach nourishment becoming more prevalent in many areas of VA and NC, I’m curious how they think that is affecting the places they surf. Several colleagues of mine who also do surf research have found that due to surfers’ knowledge of coastal processes and the ocean, they can be informative and important stakeholders in discussions about coastal management,” she said.

It’s not just about the environment though. According to Usher, surfers have an economic impact on the places they surf – from retail sales to restaurants, the surf industry is a money maker.

“Surfonomics” studies have been conducted at many world-class surf breaks but I am not aware of any that have been done in NC or VA. Surfing likely has a substantial economic impact in VA and NC (AAA Travel Magazine just called VA Beach the surfing capital of the East Coast and Our State magazine just did a spread on surfing in NC), so this is a group of users we don’t want to ignore,” Usher said.

Usher is hoping to compare the responses of surfers from different regions. The survey will close in August.

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