Economic impacts of river waves

Global wave tourism is valued at $60 billion a year. Rivers waves allow communities to capture part of this economic value. Good waves are proven to generate millions to tens of millions of economic activity annually. The predictable high quality of the waves, good safety and ease of spectator access make river waves very attractive to wave users and their families. Good river waves make wave users, their families and spectators visit more often, and stay longer in the area. The return on investment for river wave parks is from less than a year to less than 5 years.

This article includes:

  • Images of successful waves and whitewater.
  • Details of economic impacts.
  • Case studies of wave economic impacts

Examples of waves making economic impacts

Waves and whitewater parks are proven culture and economic successes. Below are some examples of successful waves and whitewater parks and the year of the photo. There are hundreds of these facilities around the world with more being built every year.


Wave usage at all hours

Good waves are incredibly popular and are used from dawn until after sunset. Below are screenshots from webcams at Salida, US, and Bend, US. These are from regular days and not special events.


Examples of adjustable waves

This is a small selection of existing adjustable recreational river features. Methods of adjustment include hydraulics, pneumatics, manual hoists, sandbag placement, bolting attachments, stop logs, and more. These waves are very low risk, over decades of use with tens of millions of user hours there has been one death and minimal injuries. The information shown is river feature name, country of location, and year of construction.


$60 billion annual expediture on wave tourism

Multiple studies have shown tens of billions are spent each year on wave tourism. Two studies are quoted below.

Employing a direct cost method, international surf tourism expenditure was valued between $31.5 to $64.9 billion USD per year and surfers reported being willing to pay between $1.99 and $4.1 billion USD more annually for sustainable surf tourism products.

Mach, L., & Pointing, J. (2021, May). Establishing a pre-COVID-19 baseline for surf tourism: Trip expenditure and attitudes, behaviors and willingness to pay for sustainability. Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights, 2(1). doi:10.1016/j.annale.2021.100011

Treating night-time light emissions as a proxy for economic activity we find that high quality surfing waves boost activity in the local area (<5km), relative to comparable locations with low quality waves, by 0.15-0.28 log points from 1992-2013. This amounts to between US$ 18-22 million (2011 PPP) per wave per year, or $50 billion globally. The effect is most pronounced in emerging economies. Surfing helps reduce extreme rural poverty, by encouraging people to nearby towns. When a wave is discovered by the international community, economic growth in the area rises by around 3%.

McGregor, W. (2016). Natural Assests: Surfing a wave of economic growth. Oxford: University of Oxford.

Market value of wave sessions and economic impact of wave users
Wave user spending near the wave is between $1,730,000 USD at 100% capacity and $518,000 USD at 30% capacity. This is based on waves users typically spending $62.50 per session averaged over a year including all costs such as gear, travel, lodgings, food, etc. A typical good river wave provides wave sessions with an annual market value of over $3,300,000 USD at 100% capacity and $1,000,000 USD at 30% capacity. This is based on the international market rate for good wave sessions of over $1 USD per minute.

Wave session value calculation

Value is based on what users would pay for access to the wave based on international wave pool access pricing.

Capacity# of 2hr wave sessions per yearSession value at $1 USD per minuteTotal value of wave sessions per year
30%8,288$120 USD$995,000 USD
100%27,626$120 USD$3,315,000 USD

Wavepool Mag: 2023 price guide for the world’s wave pools – Supports the $1 USD per minute wave value.

Wave user economic impacts

Economic impacts is based on what users spend associated with wave usage over a year.

Capacity# of 2hr wave sessions per yearWave user spending per sessionWave user spending per year
30%8,288$62.50 USD$518,000
100%27,626$62.50 USD$1,726,000

A”Socioeconomic”and”Recreational Profile of”Surfers in”the”United”States. 2011. Wagner, et al. Surf-First and Surfrider Foundation. – $66 USD spend per vist.

The economic impact of domestic surfing on the United Kingdom. 2012. Mills, Dr Bryan and Cummins, Andy. Cornwall: Surfers Against Sewage. – $3,150 to $5,700 surf spend per year.

Wave session value and economic impacts charts

These are for a generic river wave. Typical seasonal usage restrictions have been applied including:

  • Usage change due to hours of daylight.
  • No usage for three months in the winter season of Dec, Jan, Feb.
  • Reduced usage in the two shoulder seasons of March, April, and October, November
  • Reduced usage during high flow period of June, July.

New business opportunities

River waves create opportunities for new and expanded businesses including:

  • Gear rental and sales
  • Lessons
  • River safety courses
  • Casual float rentals
  • Overnight lodgings
  • Restaurants
  • Area programming
  • International competitions
  • River and wave education
  • Shuttles
  • More

Case studies of wave economic impacts

Below are case studies showing the millions of dollars of postive economic impacts at each wave. These studies are based on waves that exist.

Bend whitewater park: $4.8M annual economic impact

Save the Waves: Multiple oceans waves each showing millions in economic impacts.