Numbers Nerd: How many surfers per wave pool per country?

Figures are only as solid as their interpretation, and while numbers don’t lie, they can be thrown into the shorebreak of estimates and come out any which way. But with the growth of surfing worldwide, the actual number of surfers is as pliable as a block of wax on a summer’s day. 

In 2012, the International Surfing Association (ISA) handed the International Olympic Committee a document that accounted for around 35 million worldwide surfers. 

But while a number has been settled on, it begs the question of what classes someone as a surfer; do you take into account surf frequency, surfboard ownership, and year-round participation. The definition is as solid as whitewater.

The ISA study also revealed the distribution of worldwide participants by continent, as follows:

  • America: 13.5 million surfers;
  • Oceania: 6.5 million surfers;
  • Asia: 6 million surfers;
  • Europe: 4.5 million surfers;
  • Africa: 4.5 million surfers;

And to break it down further, here are a couple of country estimates from the ISA.

Brazil: 3 million surfers
Australia: 1.7 million surfers 
U.K. and France: 0.5 million surfers each.

As of 2020, the number of surfers in the USA was estimated to be around 3.3 million. This figure comes from the 2020 edition of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report.

Regarding national figures, finding and getting exact numbers is not easy. However, here are some of SIFA’s estimates:

  • USA: 3.0 million surfers;
  • Australia: 1.7 million surfers;
  • United Kingdom: 500,000 surfers;
  • France: 450,000 surfers;
  • Spain: 300,000 surfers;
  • Portugal: 200,000 surfers;
  • New Zealand: 145,000 surfers;
  • Canada: 2,000 surfers;
BSR Surf Resort season opener surfing duo
The best wave in Waco Texas draws clients from America’s estimated 13.5 million surfers. Image by Rob Henson

As for the number of wave pools in existence and in planning stages around the world, we’re on solid ground – we definitely know these figures; it’s something we at Wave Pool Mag deal with daily. You can view the world map right here.

For the U.S., there are a total of 42 pools in various stages of planning and construction, and a few are completed. With three million surfers in the country, this breaks down to 71,428 surfers per pool – or just a tad over the average crowd at Trestles.

In Europe, you’ve 58 pools on the way, with a handful ready right now. At an estimated continental surf population of 1.45 million, there’ll be one pool per 25,000 surfers. Those are pretty good numbers. And we can break down these numbers further for the U.K., France, Spain, Germany and Portugal.

The U.K. is estimated to have 500,000 rubber-wearing wave chasers; so with ten pools on the cards, including Bristol’s already constructed The Wave, you’ve one wave maker per 50,000.

floating wave pool in france
To get the numbers we counted projects like Okahina’s floating atolls in France which were supposed to be completed by now.

France‘s 12 planned pools and 450,000 surfers leave them with 37,500 people per wave tank. Though these numbers will rise substantially depending on which pool may be on strike at any one time. After perfecting fine wine, the French enjoy nothing more than placard-waving protests.

With an estimated 300,000 surfers and six planned pools, Spain is sitting on a ratio of 50,000 surfers per wave tub. And Portugal, with two pools, one for Lisbon and another for Óbidos, will be able to split their surf population of 200,000 evenly.

There are 2.5 million Germans who say they have tried surfing. That number is fed by 100,000 countrymen and women trying the sport for the first time each year. From the same source (who admitted the numbers erred on the optimistic side) the count for active surfers is placed at 420,000. The number of wave pools planned for Germany, including this year’s o2 Surftown MUC, is 14 (including a handful of standing waves.) That means that there could be one wave pool for every 30,000 German surfers.

For the surfing powerhouse of Brazil, there’s been plenty of action on the wave pool front in the country recently, from openings to project announcements. But with its estimated three million surfers, the statistics are a little different. Currently, Brazil has eight tubs in total (open, and planned), having a pool for every 375,000 surfers. But when you take São Paulo’s, Boa Vista, and Praia da Grama out of the equation – at both, you have to buy property to surf – the numbers swell considerably to half a million per pool.

The surf-saturated continent of Australia has entered the man-made wave scene later than most. Despite being among the first in the world to open a wave pool commercially (its opening was almost hand-in-hand with England’s The Wave; you can read about it here) wave pool projects have been announced and scuppered several times over the past few years. But for Down Under’s 1.7 million jellyfish-dodging wave sliders, there are 14 wave pools – everything from dream stage to surf-right-now. This means there could well be a critter-free wave zone for every 121,428  Aussie surfers.

But seeing how half of the country’s surf population is in Indonesia at any given time, there’ll probably be plenty of space at Aussie wave tanks.

wave pool o2 SURFTOWN MUC_8
According to sources, this will be the first of many wave pools to stoke the German surf community.

With wave pool tech, plannings, construction approvals (or denials), and openings being announced almost daily, things can change quickly in this scene. But in the very near future, one thing’s for sure: you’re going to have plenty more wave pools around the world to choose from. You just have to decide which country you want to surf next.

Which country has the best ratio of wave pool projects to people?

30K-1 Germany
37K-1 France
50K-1 UK
50K-1 Spain
72K-1 USA
100K-1 Portugal
121K -1 Australia
500K-1 Brazil