Jeff Spicoli Is Dead
A gentlemanly defense of the average surfer
By Fritts Causby
For those of you who don’t know, Jeff Spicoli is the long-haired, continually dazed, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, unmotivated surfer portrayed by Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The film is a classic; it’s hilarious and it will probably always be part of our culture, but it created a negative stereotype that is simply no longer relevant or true.
To be honest, it may be a bit premature to say that Jeff Spicoli is dead. This is because the word on the street and in the water is that the mayor of Wrightsville Beach wants to ban surfing altogether. After considering the number of negative images of surfers continually perpetuated by movies and TV shows, it would not be surprising to find out this is true.
One could scarcely blame an elected official for wanting to discourage surfers from visiting their town or taking part in the sport of surfing, if the stereotype were accurate. In reality, however, it is unfair, false and destructive to portray the average modern surfer as a washed-out, perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli-type, who wants “nothing more than some tasty waves and a cool buzz.”
Surfers no longer fit this profile. In fact, the average American surfer has a higher income level and a higher level of education than the general public. According to a recent report, “A Socioeconomic and Recreational Profile of Surfers in the United States,” which was published by Surf-First and the Surfrider Foundation, the average surfer in the U.S. has a bachelor’s degree or higher, earns $75,000 or more per year, and is around 34 years old.
The report also shows that, as a whole, surfers visit the beach around 100 times a year, spending approximately $66 per trip. This equates to a more than $36 million annual contribution from surfers to the coastal communities they visit.
In North Carolina, income levels and education are slightly lower than the average. An explanation for this could be that the cost of living in North Carolina is relatively low compared with more populated areas such as California and the Northeast. However, surfers in North Carolina spent more than those in many other areas, at an average of $111 per trip. Nearly 60 percent of surfers in North Carolina have a college education or higher, and nearly 75 percent are employed full-time, making an average of $50,000 per year. This places the economic impact of North Carolina surfing at more than $3 million per year—nothing to be sneezed at!
Still, almost any surfers with more than 10 years of experience can describe how they have felt marginalized, discriminated against or looked down upon by those who have no understanding or appreciation of the sport. It is easy to see why, and it is almost understandable, considering that surfers have long been portrayed as uneducated, unmotivated and unemployed.
After learning that these notions have no basis in fact, it becomes clear that many coastal management policies and attitudes should be reconsidered: Surfers bring much-needed funds into our coastal economy, and their interests should be taken into account. The numbers from the report unequivocally prove that surfers exert substantial economic impact. Attracting more surfers to coastal regions is a solid idea, especially if considered from an economic standpoint.
How to attract them? A network of artificial surfing reefs could be constructed, to fight coastal erosion and create an environment that is more favorable for surfing. Surfers could be permitted to congregate at nearby fishing piers in certain situations. The rules pertaining to surfing nearby fishing piers could be less strictly enforced, and a disclaimer could be posted, stating that the users are surfing at their own risk and liability. This could free police officers from the time-wasting crunch of enforcement, allowing their talents to be better utilized elsewhere.
The ocean is not private property, but as the sign on Johnnie Mercer’s Pier states: SURFING WITHIN 350 FEET IS PROHIBITED. VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO ARREST.
Do we really want to send our highly educated young men and women to jail for something as innocent as surfing? Putting people into the system for surfing could only be described as ridiculous. I have to think, Isn’t there a better solution for all of this? But I make no pretense about my ability to offer an answer to a problem so complex.
The Surfrider Foundation’s report concludes, “When devising coastal policy local officials should consider surfers as an important constituency whose economic impact is tied to coastal protection.” Instead of being viewed as a fringe group of deadbeats, surfers should be regarded for what they are — viable, upstanding members of our coastal community.
Surfing has a profound impact on our local economy, and it’s laughable to think that it should be discouraged or banned.
Jeff Spicoli had his moment in the sun, but it’s time to let him go. b
Fritts Causby is a North Carolina native who has been surfing since the 1980s. When he isn’t busy writing about real estate or looking for waves, he finds joy by spending time with his daughter Bridget, golfing, cooking and mountain biking. He invites you to connect with him on social media.