Surf s Up, and Upscale, as Sport Reverses Its Beach Bum Image

Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Published: February 11, 2007

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.

Liv Galendez learning to surf in California. Catering to wealthier surfers has become a big business.

Or for a daily rate, in addition to the cost of his airfare, Brad Gerlach will give private instruction to select clients anywhere in the world. Mr. Gerlach, who was ranked No. 1 on 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.

“It s sort of lost that dirtbag appeal,” said Isabelle Tihanyi, who with her twin, Caroline, started Surf Diva, a school based in La Jolla, Calif., that caters mostly to women, a growing segment of surfers. “Now you see more yuppies in the water with a brand-new board and a brand-new S.U.V. “” all the latest technical gear.”

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.

“There s more down time in surfing than any other sport,” said Chris Mauro, the editor of Surfer Magazine.

It was not always this way. “In the 1970s, you would stop at 25 and went to work or you were going straight to loserdom,” Mr. Mauro said. “It used to be a strike against you if you were a surfer.”

In those days, continuing to surf while carrying on a career was a matter best left secret. “If you were a surfer and you wore a suit and tie to work, you tried to hide the fact you surfed,” Mr. Mauro said. “Now, it s like you re the star on the company basketball team.”

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.”

“In San Diego, you never know if the guy next to you could be a multimillionaire, or a judge or an executive, and he s surfing.”

Dionne Mochon, 32, a prosecutor in San Diego, began taking surf lessons last year. “Surfing has opened so many doors to meet people, network and just enjoy being a woman interacting with other professionals on a social level,” she wrote in a recent e-mail message. Judges I appear with surf, opposing counsel surf, my colleagues surf, and I made so many friends who surf as well.

Enrique Huerta, who is known as Moose, said he landed a job in Manhattan’s fashion industry partly because of surfing. A former professional longboarder, Huerta, 28, works in international sales and merchandising for a denim company. He got to know two of the company s founders during surf sessions off Long Island.

“That was kind of the icebreaker,” Mr. Huerta said.

Jeff Kolodny, a talent agent for the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif., said he had seen a surge in interest in surfing at work. Mr. Kolodny began surfing at 12 and worked as an associate editor at Surfing Magazine before joining William Morris, a company with a growing number of surfing devotees.

“Only in the last few years has anyone cared that I m a surfer,” he said. “Now I m really popular. People you would never imagine in your life are going to the beach, senior executives at my company.”

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.

Surfings 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.

A drive of more than 800 miles from San Diego, Scorpion Bay can be difficult to reach, and it lacks most amenities. Only private airplanes can land there, and those who drive must cover a few hundred miles along dirt roads through the desert. For years, most people stayed at a cold-shower campsite on a rocky bluff above the beach. On their Web site,, the campground s operators denied that they would sell out.

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


  1. “For years, most people stayed at a cold-shower campsite on a rocky bluff above the beach. On their Web site,, the campground s operators denied that they would sell out.”

    What are you inferring here? How could they sell out? They don’t even own any property. What is happening in Scorpion Bay is definitely happening because of intrepid surfers that wish to be in a place more idyllic and less congested than the likes of San Diego County. Still the human condition hasn’t stopped them from being irresponsible and petty and mean to each other. Just sometime last month the manager there tried to kick some people off the bluff although they were only there for day use surfing of the point and not to use any of the ammenities that the Scorpion Bay camping outfit provides. There are many different kinds of surfers because we are all people with different views and scruples. We should all take time to be responsible and conscious when we visit and begin to infiltrate foreign lands. Do it by the book and be conscious. Take a lesson from these guys, and drop the upscale golfer bull$#*+.

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