The Tragedy of the Waves

Justin Deats
Michael Martinez
Robert Shearer, Pepperdine University
William Shearer, University of California, Santa Barbara


The purpose of this paper is to determine the relationship between the number of waves a surfer will catch, the surfer’s characteristics, and the surf conditions; and utilize this relationship to explain wave allocation strategies chosen by surfers. Design/methodology/approach – The study employed a discrete event simulation to model surfers at a well-known surf break in Southern California. Several experimental designs were implemented in the simulation to measure the effect of a surfer’s characteristics and surf conditions on waves caught; and compare different wave allocation strategies. Findings – The number of waves that a surfer will catch is largely dependent upon the surfer’s skill level and the wave allocation strategy used at the surf break. Common wave allocation strategies fail with large crowds. Originality/value – This study is the first to model the entire lineup at a surf break, providing quantitative insights into why surfers choose different wave allocation strategies.