Surfing's up among other status sports

February 11, 2007|By New York Times News Service

For $10,000 a day, you can have the ultimate surfing sojourn in Indonesia aboard the 110-foot Indies Trader IV, a sort of floating hotel with 15 cabins, a helipad and three-course meals with wine. A motorized tender takes you to the waves.

Or for a daily rate, in addition to the cost of his airfare, Brad Gerlach can be your private instructor anywhere in the world. Gerlach, who was ranked No. 1 on the surfing's world professional tour during the 1986 and 1991 seasons, termed the cost "not cheap at all."

Surfing, once the sport of Hawaiian kings, has come full circle. After becoming a counterculture activity for beach bums and bohemians, it has emerged as a status sport, like skiing and golf.

This new species of surfer contributes to a booming market for vacation packages, instruction, equipment and real estate near some of the world's best surf breaks. Like golf, surfing has become an ideal activity around which to discuss business. Surfers find plenty of time for talk while driving in search of good spots, while changing into and out of wetsuits in the parking lot, and especially while waiting between sets of waves.

It is unclear why surfing has found a broader respectability. Some point to the initial public offering of Quiksilver, the board apparel and accessories company, in 1986 as a catalyst. Perhaps reflecting surfing's laid-back roots, concrete figures on participation are hard to come by. Two million people consider themselves active surfers in the United States, twice as many as 20 years ago, according to Action Sports Retailer, the leading board-sports industry trade show. An active surfer is considered someone who goes out at least eight times a year.

Surfing's popularity has helped drive international real estate sales, with property along remote coastlines being bought and developed into resorts and vacation homes. Parts of Costa Rica are considered so crowded that some surfers have pushed north to Nicaragua. And in Mexico, rumors abound about development in a remote area of Baja California known as Scorpion Bay.

Surf schools have become another growth industry. San Diego had so many that the city began to regulate them.

Todd Juneau, a real estate consultant in San Diego and a longtime surfer, trolls for business in local lineups. "I'll sit in the water and listen to conversations, and if someone says something about real estate, I'll find a way to interject," he said. "And it pays off."

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