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Popular surf spots can give economies a break

WA has one of the world’s biggest economic advantages — its surf breaks.

Research to be released this week suggests that just having a good surf break can drive a local economy much faster than those coastal spots where the surf is flat.

Compiled by Oxford University’s Thomas McGregor and the University of Sydney’s Samuel Wills, the research looked at 5000 different surf breaks across the globe over more than 20 years.

They tracked economic activity, in part, by the number of lights that were turned on at night around the surrounding surf spots.

And they found the shore break at Yallingup in the Margaret River region was the fastest-growing surf break in terms of economic performance in Australia.

Not far behind were the Isolators and Rabbits breaks.

So good is Margaret River in terms of maximising its surfing breaks for a buck that nine of the top 10 spots in Australia were from the region.

Yallingup, Isolators and Rabbits rank in the world’s best 10, which is topped by Nosara in Costa Rica.

The research found those spots with high-quality breaks attracted more economic activity than those with a flat bit of ocean. A five-star break, for instance, could be worth almost $2.5 million a year in extra economic activity for the surrounding 10km area.

Towns closest to good breaks grew 0.5-0.6 percentage points a year faster than those with poor breaks.

There is a long history of studying the economic benefits of natural features such as good soil and whether this offsets the benefits that might flow to a city or region based on its people and technology.

In the study’s case, there is evidence that economic activity fell around areas where building a coastal road or dredging a river turned a prime break into something approaching a millpond.

Report authors Dr Wills and Mr McGregor said governments could learn from their study — it could be investment in shark-detection programs or even the construction of artificial surf breaks.

“Policymakers can use natural amenities like surf breaks as engines for growth over a range of time horizons, especially in developing countries,” they said.

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