Surfers represent a culturally and economically important subpopulation of beachgoers who are subject to greater health risks from impaired coastal waters. These increased risks relate to the amount of time surfers spend in the water, their higher incidence of water ingestion, and the propensity for surfers to surf around storm events when water quality is most likely to be poor.

To better understand this important stakeholder group, we surveyed almost 300 surfers and conducted 20 interviews with key informants in the surfing communities of Maine and New Hampshire in 2015. We employed a mixed methods approach, combining the qualitative and quantitative methods of in depth interviews and intercept surveys, to address our research goals of understanding surfers’ perceptions of water quality risk and how this impacted their decision to enter the water to surf.

Though we approached our research from the angle of water quality risk and decision-making the major theme that emerged from our interviews is that surfers Maine and New Hampshire hold a wealth of local ecological knowledge (LEK) especially around issues of water quality. This knowledge can help bolster scientific research and serve as a valuable resource to policy makers, beach managers, and those implementing general coastal management processes.

In addition to the finding that Maine and New Hampshire surfers provide valuable insight on issues of water quality, we find that surfers indicate that water quality and pollution can impact an individual’s decision to surf and that they overwhelmingly want to know about the quality of the water where they surf. Given this, and paired with the knowledge that surfers are more vulnerable to water pollution, demonstrates that the surfing population should have improved access to water quality information at their local surf spots. There is a unique opportunity for coastal managers to learn and benefit from knowledge held within the surfing community. Likewise, surfers will benefit from improvements in beach water quality management.

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New England Sustainability Consortium

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