Photo by Ricardo Español
Photo by Ricardo Español

Surf is a key part of local economy

Tourism is one of Puerto Rico’s strongest industries ($7.42 billion, %7.3 of GDP), and its Northwest coast is among the island’s top tourist destinations. To a large extent, the popularity of the region is owed to the unblemished ​beauty of its beaches, relaxed ​local vibes, and world-class surf scene. Online surf media platforms (e.g., Surfline) frequently highlight swell events across this coastline, bringing significant attention to this side of the island. As a result, surf tourism has exploded in PR as a very profitable market, especially in the Northwest coast.

Surfing represents a vital economic stimulant and plays a major role in the tourism strategies for Aguadilla, Rincon, Isabela and other northwestern municipalities. Estimates by Pendleton (2002) showed that tourism in Rincon — which is largely driven by surfing –contributed over ​$52 million ($73 million in 2018 US dollars) annually to Rincon’s economy. Similar to Rincon, the socio-economic value of surfing to Aguadilla cannot be understated. The surf spots along the Borinquen coast attract a significant number of short term and seasonal visitors that support
local hotels, guest houses, dive and fishing charters, restaurants, board shapers, surf shops, and other local retail businesses in the region.

Despite the island’s decade-long economic contraction, the surf tourism industry has proven to be resilient and continues to grow in PR as an important sector of the economy. The island’s government has taken note of this, and is looking to leverage surfing as a key touristic attraction through the enactment of public policy. Recently, the state legislature announced a proposal that intends to establish “La Ruta del Surfing” to promote surf tourism and advertise the island as a top surfing destination. As the Puerto Rican government looks to boost tourism in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the WSR designation represents a timely opportunity for a low-cost, sustainable investment that can provide huge long term returns.

André Amador, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering – applied ocean science, SCRIPPS Institute of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Member of the Punta Borinquen World Surfing Reserve Local Stewardship Council.