SURF TOURISM RESEARCH AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT OF SURFING SITES
One of my favorite research areas is surf tourism, especially when addressing the conservation of coastal surfing resources. It has been a great way to bring together my personal experience in surfing, surf travel, managing an international surf school (1998-2003), and academic research.
My personal experience and research indicate that the world's surfing breaks are iconic locations worthy of protection for future generations. Surf sites are also significant economic engines for local communities with sustainability a key issue.
To address these problems, I developed the Surf Resource Sustainability Index (SRSI), a methodology aimed at measuring the conservation aptitude at surf sites. SRSI is a metric-orientated planning and development methodology – a theoretical compass which points toward sustainability, representing the summation of assessable qualities or attributes a site possesses which can make a positive contribution to sustainability.
Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Management
Thesis Title: A Surf Resource Sustainability Index for Surf Site Conservation and Tourism Management
Surf sites around the world are under ever-increasing pressures from tourism, coastal development, pollution and other anthropogenic factors, and this research introduces and illuminates surfing areas as integral natural resources. The dissertation develops a Surf Resource Sustainability Index (SRSI) and presents it through a series of three peer-reviewed journal papers. The SRSI is designed as a global model and framework of indicators and methods for the assessment of surf site conservation attributes. A systematic literature review of surf tourism research was used in conjunction with the author’s personal experience and discussion with experienced surfers and scholars to develop twenty-seven sustainability indicators. Framing them as social, economic, environmental and governance indices, the study defines the criteria, implications and applicability for each indicator in context. A progression of field studies was carried out in Phuket, Thailand, where an emerging surf tourism market segment is additive to the island’s bustling tourism economy and escalating coastal resource management issues. The SRSI has proven effective in assessing sites and pinpointing key areas of concern. SRSI metrics are particularly applicable to the cross-sectional evaluation of surf sites and serve as a direct method in the prioritization of sites for surfing reserve development. This research contributes to the fields of surf resource conservation and tourism management through the innovation and application of a new and pragmatic methodology.
Keywords: coastal management, conservation, sustainability indicators, surf resource sustainability index, surf tourism, Phuket, Thailand
My PhD process
My PhD was research-based and followed a standard protocol set forth by the Faculty of Environmental Management. I was required to prepare a qualifying exam, supplemental exam, thesis proposal, thesis defense, thesis poster, and three international journal publications.
Master of Business Administration in Hospitality and Tourism Management
Thesis Title: Coastal resource assessment for surf tourism in Thailand
Framed as an exploratory research of Thailand’s physical environment, this study identifies and assesses the natural surfing resources of the Andaman Coast, including the sources, types and locations of waves in relationship to the regional and coastal topography. Underpinning the research is the collection and review of the literature on coastal resource management, surfing in Thailand, and the scholarly works pertaining to surf tourism. From a social science standpoint, personal interviews with Thai and foreign resident surfers, tourists, and members of local communities were carried out. The investigation locates a wide range of areas suitable for surf tourism and indicates that Thailand’s natural resources are somewhat limited and coupled with issues of water quality, ocean safety, regularity and quality of surfing waves, and the accessibility to remote coastal areas during the southwest monsoon. The study finds that surf tourism in Thailand is at a stage of infancy, has potential, and affords an opportunity to develop sustainably. The research advances the overall understanding of surfing in Thailand and offers a series of recommendations for the coastal resource management and conservation of surfing areas.
Keywords: surf tourism, coastal resource, coastal assessment, Andaman, Phuket, Thailand
Academic papers and publications
This paper develops a social science weighting schema for surf tourism planning and sustainable development, eco-tourism, and conservation studies using surf tourism as a representative worked example. Assessment scores from a previously published surf resource sustainability field study of nine beaches in Phuket, Thailand, were weighted against data taken from surveys of expert scholars and surfers from a range of diverse backgrounds. The study measured levels of significance among weighted and unweighted means and bias ratio for 27 social, economic, environmental and governance indicators. Differences between scores and weighted scores were, in general, low, but this was not the case in key areas of concern, notably governance, and areas where poor governance had negative consequences, such as water quality. The findings indicate that analysis of weighted data helps identify key metrics. We show that analysis of weighted data provides insights not apparent from working on unweighted data. The procedures and weighting strategies employed in this research can be used for tourism planning and other related research activities which use interview data, such as research on, ecotourism, national park surveys, amateur fishing, snorkeling and reef tours. This study provides a conceptual framework for comparisons of different studies using similar protocols.
Keywords: conservation; surf resource sustainability index; surf tourism; Thailand; tourism planning; weights
A ‘system boundary’ is a theoretical concept in environmental science representing the intersecting and interrelated human and physical elements in the natural world at a given site. This chapter develops a system boundary discussion on surf sites, recognizing ‘surf system boundaries’ as more than the beach and sea; they encompass numerous stakeholder interests and factors related to the scope of the ‘whole’ surf system as a sustainable and dynamic model. The following discussion serves to review and broaden the knowledge of surf system boundaries and provide clarity in two sets of dimensions: the physical boundaries of surf sites and the resource stakeholders.
Keywords: surf tourism; surf resource; system boundaries; environmental management
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2015). Measuring the conservation aptitude of surf beaches in Phuket, Thailand: An application of the surf resource sustainability index. International Journal of Tourism Research, 17(2) 105–117.
The research seeks to measure the conservation aptitude of nine surf beaches in Phuket, Thailand by employing the Surf Resource Sustainability Index, an assessment methodology comprising 27 social, economic, environmental and governance indicators used to frame and quantify attributes for conservation development. The research identifies and documents key areas of concern for the sustainability of the island's coastal surfing resources and distinguishes steps forward to address emergent issues. The study finds that by improving the awareness, legislative status and management of surfing sites, the overall conservation aptitude for the island could be raised considerably.
Keywords: surf resource sustainability index; surf tourism; conservation; Phuket, Thailand
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2014). Investigating the importance of surf resource sustainability indicators: Stakeholder perspectives for surf tourism planning and development. Tourism Planning and Development, 11(2) 127–148.
The sustainability and conservation of coastal surfing resources have gained considerable attention in the twenty-first century. Scholars, graduate students, not-for-profit organizations, and commercial and governmental sectors have entered the surf tourism research field in order to better understand and manage surf sites. This research investigates the significance of 27 social, economic, environmental, and governance indicators outlined in the Surf Resource Sustainability Index, a contemporary methodology for measuring the conservation aptitude of surf sites. Twenty-one highly experienced surfers from diverse backgrounds were chosen for in-depth interviews based on their position as key stakeholders and for their practical experience, knowledge, and interaction with the resource. The study finds that surfers placed the highest importance for conservation aptitude on beach quality, water quality, legislative status, biodiversity, and history. Overall, environmental and governance indicators were slightly more significant than social indicators, and economic indicators were the least significant. Stakeholders' comments and corresponding ratings are listed for each indicator and provide insight to their perspectives and evaluations. The research contributes to surf tourism planning and development though the clarification of sustainability indicators and the discernment of indicator importance by surfers. A surf resource conservation action matrix is developed for future policy design and management.
Keywords: sustainability indicators; surf resource sustainability index; surf tourism; conservation aptitude
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2013). Developing a surf resource sustainability index as a global model for surf beach conservation and tourism research. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 19(7) 760–792.
The growth of surfing activities and surf tourism has gained significant attention in the academia during the past decade. This paper is aimed at developing a framework of indicators and methods used in assessing the sustainability factors of surf sites. The research puts forward a Surf Resource Sustainability Index (SRSI) as a conceptual model to study the sustainability of surf tourism sites. The literature review, previous experience, and discussion with veteran surfers and scholars were used to develop indicators and determine their measurability and aptitude. Index pilot testing was carried out in Phuket, Thailand, where an emerging surf culture and tourism market segment add to the island's bustling economy and coastal resource-management issues. The case study underpins the importance of social, economic, environmental, and governance factors in the conservation process. The SRSI metrics provide a direct method for assessing surf sites and offer tangible benefits to surfers and other stakeholders.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2012). The genesis of a new body of sport tourism literature: A systematic review of surf tourism research (1997-2011). Journal of Sport and Tourism, 17(4), 257–287.
Surf tourism is a rapidly expanding market segment of the wider sport tourism industry and the purpose of this study is to provide an analytical interpretation of surf tourism research. Published and unpublished literature from 1997 through to 2011 was collected through searching a variety of academic databases and communicating directly with the authors themselves. A systematic review was employed to identify and analyze the types of research emerging from international journals, universities, governments, and the not-for-profit sector. The study indicates a genesis in sport tourism literature, representing a new and available body of surf tourism research. We find that this new area of research has arisen mainly from the grey literature through the works of graduate students and consultants. Surfing events, artificial surfing reefs, and the sustainability of surf sites and host communities are among the most prolific areas under discussion and key arguments include socioeconomics, coastal management, and sustainable tourism. Approximately 10% of countries in the world with coastal surfing resources have been studied, and this and other findings indicate the potential for new areas of research in domestic and international tourism. A bibliography provides 156 documentary materials compiled for the systematic review.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2011). Beach and coastal survey of Thailand: What future for surf tourism. Journal of Tourism, Hospitality & Culinary Arts, 3(1), 77–87.
Surfing and surf tourism run parallel: they are focused upon location-specific destinations where natural resources and phenomena occur conducive to the sport, and traveling for the sake of surfing new places is as old as the sport itself. The research investigates the broad environment of Thailand through the survey and assessment of coastal resources in order to determine the plausibility of developing surf tourism in Thailand. The study also examines surf tourist characteristics in Phuket, Thailand, through unstructured and semi-structured personal interviews. The research identified five Thai provinces best suited for surf tourism and suggests that there are suitable locations for surfing and surf tourism, including those for advanced, intermediate, and beginner surfers. A Thailand-specific definition for surf tourism is put forward, reflecting the natural environment and the characteristics of current surf tourists. The paper identifies future prospects, challenges, and issues for developing sustainable surf tourism in Thailand.
Keywords: surf tourism; sustainable surfing; surf site assessment; Thailand
Global Surf Cities Conference, Surfer's Paradise, Australia
In 2013, I was invited to give several talks to the international surfing community at the Global Surf Cities Conference in Australia. I was asked to present research on the Surf Resource Sustainability Index (SRSI) and the surf tourism industry in Phuket, Thailand. Please click the buttons below to view or share these presentations.
- Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre
- Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
- Wednesday, 27 February – Friday, 1 March, 2013
National and international surfing reserves
Surf tourism is a new and dynamic area of research, with most studies targeting the economics and sustainable management of coastal resources, including stakeholder perspectives, conservation, water quality and biodiversity of marine organisms (Martin & Assenov, 2012).
Brad Farmer, a leading advocate for the "Conservation of oceans, waves and beaches, and the salty communities who share them," and global chair of the non-profit organization National Surfing Reserves (NSR), met with me in Phuket to discuss my research and the protection of surf sites in Thailand for future generations (Phuket Gazette, 2011).
Farmer is an outstanding example of personal commitment and proactive engagement in surf site conservation. He developed the Surfing Reserve program in order to recognize surf sites as "Iconic places of intrinsic environmental, heritage, sporting and cultural value, and to embrace all peoples to enjoy, understand and protect special coastal environments of universal value to the surfing world" (NSR, 2017). Farmer maintains the core values of conservation: "A Surfing Reserve does not attempt to exclude any user group."
For more information, please surf to these websites:
WSR – World Surfing Reserves
Japan's Nalu Magazine – Surf tourism research in Phuket
In 2008, Japanese surf magazine "Nalu" came to Phuket to write a story featuring the island's waves and my surf tourism research. The article, written by Riku Emoto and photographed by Yasuma Miura, was centered on the concept of a surfer conducting research on surfing for an academic degree.
Conferences and Proceedings
In recent years, I have been active in presenting surf tourism research at conferences and raising awareness of the value and significance of surfing as a coastal resource.
At the 18th Asia Pacific Tourism Association Annual Conference (APTA) in 2012, "Towards a surf resource sustainability index: A global model for surf site conservation and Thailand case study" won Best Paper Award (Green Aspect on Tourism Development Research), selected out of 171 papers.
Martin, S. A. (2009). Rethinking the monsoon: Sustainable surf tourism in Thailand. Paper presented at the International Tourism Conference on Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism Management: Beyond the Global Recession. Silpakon University, Bangkok, Thailand, May 14–15.
Martin, S. A. (2010). The conservation of coastal surfing resources in Thailand: The Andaman Sea. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Environment and Natural Resources (ICENR) 2010 – The Changing Environment: Challenges for Society (pp. 262–280), Mahidol University, Salaya Campus, Bangkok, Thailand, November 10–12.
Martin, S. A. (2013). Surf tourism and resource sustainability in Phuket, Thailand. Scholarly presentation [PowerPoint]. Global Surf Cities Conference: Destination Innovation Collaboration, Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre, Gold Coast, QLD, February 28 – March 1. Gold Coast: Gold Coast Surf City, Inc.
Martin, S. A. (2013). The surf resource sustainability index and Thailand case trial. Scholarly presentation [PowerPoint]. Global Surf Cities Conference: Destination Innovation Collaboration, Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre, Gold Coast, QLD, February 28 – March 1. Gold Coast: Gold Coast Surf City, Inc.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2008). Beach and coastal survey: What future for surf tourism. CD Proceedings of the 7th Asia Pacific Forum for Graduate Students’ Research in Tourism – Advances in Tourism Practices: Pointing the Way Forward (p. 12). University Teknologi Mara, Selangor, Malaysia, June 3–5.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2008). Interdisciplinary approaches toward sustainable surf tourism in Thailand. Paper presented at the 1st PSU Sustainability Conference. Prince of Songkla University, Phuket Campus, Thailand, November 19–21.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2011). A statistical analysis of surf tourism research literature. CD Proceedings of the 4th Annual PSU Research Conference: Multidisciplinary Studies on Sustainable Development (p. 57). Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand, November 16–18.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2012). Measuring the importance of social, economic, environmental and governance indicators for the surf resource sustainability index. Proceedings of the 1st Annual PSU Phuket International Conference: Multidisciplinary Studies on Sustainable Development (p. 51). Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand, January 10–12, 2013.
Martin, S. A., & Assenov, I. (2012). Towards a surf resource sustainability index: A global model for surf site conservation and Thailand case study. Proceedings of the 18th Asia Pacific Tourism Association Annual Conference (APTA) Hospitality & Tourism Education: New Tourism & New Waves (pp. 745–760). Taipei, ROC, June 26–29. Busan, Korea: School of International Tourism, Dong-A University. [+ Best paper award]
Martin, S. A., Assenov, I., & Ritchie, R. (2014). Towards a social science index and conceptual framework for assigning weights in sustainability research. Proceedings of the 3rd Annual PSU Phuket International Conference: Multidisciplinary Studies on Sustainable Development (p. 70). Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand, November 13–14. [+ Best paper award]
Thank you for visiting my Surf Tourism Research Page.
I hope you enjoy the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to learn more about surf tourism or the environmental management of surf sites, or would like to arrange a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.