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Towns and cities need surfing lessons, geographer claims

14 September 2011

Surfers are model global citizens, according to geographer and sea-kayaker Dr Jon Anderson from Cardiff University’s School of City and Regional Planning.

While people may think of surfers as nomads obsessed only with catching the perfect wave, Dr Anderson argues that they care passionately about coastal areas and the people around them. Surfers’ focus on protecting what is most dear to them – coastlines – is turning them into stewards of the sea.

Dr Anderson explained his ideas recently to more than 1,500 people at the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) annual International Conference.

Surfer Web

"Surfing is a typical example of something that can contribute to tension in a local area. Tensions between travelling surfers and local users of a beach can often lead to conflict and sometimes violence. As so many surfers now travel to catch the perfect wave, the need for surfers themselves to deal positively with this tension has emerged. As a consequence, the concept of shared responsibility has blossomed," Dr Anderson said.

Dr Anderson believes that today’s highly mobile and often disenfranchised communities should look to the emerging culture on the shoreline as an example. He said: "There are bound to be more and more clashes between ‘local’ people and ‘outsiders’. Many local people simply want to protect the essence and culture of their local area. Both local and travelling surfers have realised this and are increasingly showing a mutual respect and shared responsibility for preserving surfing areas. By applying a value to local areas, like surfers have done, communities can only stand to benefit."

jon anderson web© RGS-IBG

Dr Anderson thinks there is even potential economic value in these types of communities. "Surfing brings tourism, and that brings not only extra money to the region, but it sends a message to decision-makers that there is something worth protecting here, not only in terms of community but also in terms of economics. We need to understand what drives people to value and protect their local environments - whether that is by the sea, or in the city."

Related Links:

BBC World Service and BBC TV interviews (31 Aug 2011)

Cardiff School of City and Regional Planning