Surf industry rides a wave of pandemic stimulus as board sales soar

Hannah Ross
Swellnet Dispatch

Retail data coming out of the surf industry shows many Australians have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by going surfing.

The pandemic has been a boon for the surf industry. Photo: Hannah Ross

The industry has experienced some eyebrow-raising retail sale growth since March, according to Keith Curtain, whose company ActionWatch generated retail data from the surf and action sports sectors.

Mr Curtain said he triple checked figures for May from stores across Australia showing sales of surfboards in the seven-to-nine-feet category skyrocketed by 3,665 per cent, compared with the same period last year.

In June, the growth for that category returned to a more modest 116 per cent growth year on year.

Mr Curtain said the timing of the sales spike indicated the industry was buoyed by JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.

"Those figures suggest everyone burst onto the market, used their JobKeeper and bought themselves a new board," he said.

"Surfing was one of the few sports that was permissible during lockdown … they weren't playing footy, they weren't playing cricket or netball, they were out there surfing until dark.

"When the shit hits the fan, Australians go surfing, and that is what's happened.

"They've got their new wetsuit, their new board and they've gone, 'Right, we are going to do this lockdown in style' and they are out there in greater numbers than ever before."

Trade like 'weekend before Christmas'

Damien Goss, manager of Byron Bay surfboard manufacturer and retailer On Board Industries, described recent trade as "Christmas in July".

Mr Goss said when stage three lockdowns were introduced in New South Wales in late March he expected trade to drop-off.

"Then we had the weekend that you might do the weekend before Christmas; it was huge," he said.

Mr Goss said sales had remained strong through the pandemic.

"We had good waves, we had people with time on their hands and a little bit of money," he said.

Mr Goss said there was a marked uptick in the number of people who took up surfing, based on the boom in sales of the soft boards popular with learners.

"I was surprised," he said.

"We had people coming in who had lived in Byron Bay for 15 years and never gone surfing.

"I thought everyone came here to surf but I was wrong."

New surfers keen to 'get in touch with nature'

Teacher and keen surfer Joe Draffen said Mr Curtain's data was evident out in the water.

Mr Draffen says the pandemic allowed him to move to the coast, work from home, and surf every day. Photo: Claudia Nankervis

"There's definitely been a lot of crew who have been surfing a lot throughout the [coronavirus] time; other people working who were from their homes who were surfing more," he said.

"Plus the surf was really good so there were plenty of reasons to get out."

Mr Draffen said he also noticed plenty of new people taking up the sport.

"I think everyone was trying to get in touch with nature," he said.

"And think how they could be more physically active in the outdoor environment because all of the indoor options for sport and lifestyle were taken away," he said.

No fear of missing out

When schooling moved online, Mr Draffen left Melbourne and moved back to Fairhaven on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria so he could work from home and surf every day.

He said many of his surfer friends invested their JobKeeper payments in new surfing gear, while others had spare income because not much else was going on to spend their money on.

"Maybe people would have skipped out [on surfing purchases] in other years and tried to use the money for something else but everyone is just going, 'This is it for the winter, there is nothing else going on, so I'm going to get the best of the best gear'," Mr Draffen said.

"Normally, when I am down the coast, I wonder what's on in the city that weekend but there just wasn't any fear of missing out because everyone knows it is the place to be right now when the city is a bit grim."

Custom surfboard shaper Bryan Bates said the pandemic was good for Australian surfboard manufacturing because it reinforced a trend towards more considered consumerism and buying locally.

Mr Bates says the pandemic has made people rethink their priorities. Photo: Hannah Ross

"People are thinking more about what is important to them and what really represents value in their life," Mr Bates said.

Mr Curtain said surfing has so far proven to be COVID-proof.

"Surf retail has a purpose beyond just fast fashion or apparel," he said.

"It's linked to something that is more than just a sport.

"Surfing is just so iconic to our lifestyle and that's backed up by the data."

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

Comments's picture's picture commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 2:19pm

Back of the queue if your new


SI's picture
SI's picture
SI commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 3:17pm

Mate, so many of these guys don’t even know there is a queue. They are like city flies all over a city turd. It’s next level, not even arrogance paddling inside you at your local spot, but sheer ignorance; like they don’t even know there is a lineup or anything , literally like flies on a turd but maybe I shouldn’t hang so much crap on flies because for all I know they have more sense!! I have seen some of these guys take off deep and go straight!! But to be fair to flies again, I was surfing an awesome slabbing right with my son one day in the desert and there were heaps of flies there, biting flies. Anyway, one of them flew around my son and hassled him a little all the way to the takeoff spot. It was 4-6 as good as it gets fucking perfection and only me and my son and the fly in the lineup. Every wave was a barrel. My son took off on one and then paddled back out and was raving about how the fly was buzzing in his face when he took the drop and how it pulled into the pit with him and came out with him too. Haha now that’s a true story about a fly in the water , a desert fly that literally probably got a 4-5 second tube. They are the sorts of flies that I like surfing with, not the city ones that like to gather in huge numbers on giant turds and send photos to the world of every spot. There has also been an explosion of illegal activity with some of these people travelling outside of covid restricted areas and risking the safety of Aussies at large. It’s got to stop. I encourage people to inform the police if you see them. People like that are putting lives at risk and causing havoc for the rest of the community in their bid to control the spread of the virus. If we are responsible we can probably get on top of it, but not if people break the fucking law and keep spreading it around. People are on ventilators, others are dying. There, I’ve said it!! Don’t want to come across as crazy, but just feel a bit upset by what I’ve been seeing. Also in the water it’s no different to anywhere else- 1.5 metres - no closer. Coughs and sneezes move just as easily through the air no matter where you are, on land or over water.


T.Edds's picture
T.Edds's picture
T.Edds commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 4:39pm

Informing on other people to the police is a cowardly act. If you are such an righteous elder statesman what stopped you from educating these “flies” about how lineup works?

SI's picture
SI's picture
SI commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 6:30pm

Yeah right!!, sure mate. Telling them off does nothing. Those flies take abuse like gravy mate. A fine is the only thing that will change their behaviour. I’m not righteous mate, just realistic. And there is NOTHING cowardly about dobbing in someone who is willing to Spread a deadly disease. This thing needs to be taken more seriously than having the hero tough guy mentality. You will never stop it by telling someone off- maybe one in a hundred?


Logical's picture
Logical's picture
Logical commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 6:52pm


So you are saying a cowardly act to report:-
"people travelling outside of covid restricted areas".

Only scum violate their COVID restricted areas,

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 3:57pm

what I did.

took some job keeper and went and bought a new board for my wife from a guy who hand makes the entire thing.

Hope she likes it.

T.Edds's picture
T.Edds's picture
T.Edds commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 4:33pm

Nice one Freeride!

It is interesting to realise that we manufacture (apart from boards) next to no surf related products in Australia. I am not suggesting that they don’t exist. Rather, it seems that the market is dominated by essentially the same overseas sourced marked with alternate branding.

I truly believe that supporting a local shaper is an important element in preserving the fabric of surf culture. Shapers have significant knowledge to share not only in regard to design but insights into broader surf culture. By going to a local shaper you are paying homage to a culture that pre-existed yourself.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 5:43pm

Nothing makes me happier than going through the custom process and talking shit about surfboards with shapers.

In this instance a very experienced, knowledgeable and gentlemanly shaper with superb customer service.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 5:44pm

Ordered a new board from one of the local shapers early in the Covid-19 thing, and figured work must be slow with the declining economy etc.

So, I threw a whole bunch of boards needing dings fixed, restoration etc, into the back of the car, figuring he'd be looking for extra work.

Turns out new board orders were going bananas and he was absolutely flat out.

Still haven't got around to fixing 'em up myself. Jeez I'm useless.

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Monday, 3 Aug 2020 at 4:50pm

Yes, well we're spoilt when it comes to repairs. We've let someone else do it when we could have done it ourselves. I've just got a board back with an eye-watering charge (yep, I could have easily done it myself).

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 8:50am

tbb won't be buying a board but can contribute in a novel way...

Here's the kicker... 1st Level 4 - Surf Comp in Portugal (Creepy)

WSL Corona stage fright celebrations sorted.

Are surfers really wearing these masks in the line-up?
Last about 2 seconds bodysurfing...exhausting thinking about it!

see: World's richest surfer hits Hawaii with new board'n'mask.
Nice to know he's flesh & blood...swear he's half Human.
{ WARNING! } Quick glance comes with a mandatory 3 week Quarantine.

Rows & Rows of Surf Industry Covid Candy.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 6:43pm

I'll run an average of about 2-3 new boards, 3-4 2nd hand boards, and maybe another 8-10 vintage boards (buying and selling) a year.
This year I've gone 3 new, 4 2nds and no vintage.
I usually use the vintage buy/sell to fund all my boards...I've been cash neutral in boards for about 6 or 7 years with what I make on them but the market has been down and freight has been restricted but Scomo has kept me on yearly board average with his $750 cash bonuses. He's been good for one thing haha.
And funnily enough having Bryan in the article, I've been going to call him about one of his new tunnel bottoms...

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 7:27pm

Far out, you give Stu a run for his money.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 7:34pm

Well...I did give up all my other vices :-)

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

rees0's picture
rees0's picture
rees0 commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 6:48pm

I’m 2 boards into helping the economy since Covid

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Saturday, 1 Aug 2020 at 7:13pm

Deffo good news for local manufacturers.

"......sales of surfboards in the seven-to-nine-feet category skyrocketed by 3,665 per cent, compared with the same period last year."

Geez, just what we need more of in the surf...

Anyhows, lucky I know a place.

Got 5 boards and ride 1, all thrusters. One I found on the side of the ride and fixed up 7'6". Two is old faithful 6'4" T & C from the '90's that got snapped in half and then resurrected by me. Three is a 6'3" Matt Manners board that I brought in very good condition from an Op-shop in Coffs Harbour for $90. Four is a 6'4" Wayne Lynch that continually gives me love in any conditions and has good volume. Five is a PD 6'0" 19 inch Single Double Vee that just steers itself but lacks volume.

The rest is up to performance on the day.

Time to consolidate I reckon.

I think it might be time to get a newy.

Simon Ozzie's picture
Simon Ozzie's picture
Simon Ozzie commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 8:10am

Yep I bought a new board, assessed my important things in life and went surfing :)

Support ya local

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 9:41am

Saw this on ABC yesterday. 7 to 9’ boards, crikey what are they buying?

Can’t have hurt business that there has been some macking swells. Counted quite a few busted boards in the last month. Not mine, others.

Hopefully most of the newbs won’t enjoy a ‘commune with nature’ and find more of a dog eat dog world of competitive froth hounds making surfing as enjoyable as walking down dark alleys in the bad end of town late at night.

But certainly using a ScoMo bonus to buy a board is a bloody good investment, if you already surf. Otherwise it might end up with the ab cruncher and the stair climber in the basement.

Ed Sloane's picture
Ed Sloane's picture
Ed Sloane commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 9:59am

Demand is definitely from surf photographers finally having some time off, I ordered a whole bloody quiver for my extended downtime, long overdue.

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 10:26am

Ed, you should get out to winki and take some photos of beginners making their first successful 2 ft drop on their new sticks. The newbies would pay big bucks for one of your fine photos of that special moment.
Lockdown has been huge for businesses selling sporting and fitness equipment. Bike mechanics are so under the pump putting together new bikes, wetsuits are in short supply, home gyms are sold out, etc etc. There's clearly a lot of people not spending their disposables in pubs and cafes and are buying boards, bikes etc instead.
Now if we can just get these new surfers to stick to breaks more suitable for their level, that would be great.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

Logical's picture
Logical's picture
Logical commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 11:21am

Saturday 1/8/2020
Surf Comp on at Manly and at Curl Curl.
All groms. Adults local and from up the coast with them
Adults, kid and their dogs partying like it's 1999.

No one gave a fuck about social distancing.

Where the fuck was Manly Police and Rangers and Council ???

Blake87's picture
Blake87's picture
Blake87 commented Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 at 12:23pm

I heard about this. Heard in general the crowd was really thick. Boardriders are in collaboration with councils from what I know so they would have known. Fun wknd of waves either way

Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67 commented Monday, 3 Aug 2020 at 9:35am

How bittersweet. The best, most consistent winter on the Southern Goldie points anyone can remember, ruined by the influx of thousands of clueless Covid-kooks on their Chinese shit heaps going over the falls. I have literally nearly had my head taken off a number of times by morons who shouldn't be learning in pitching waves...Hopefully the fad will pass and a month of northerlies in Spring might help them forget all about that idea of becoming a surfer.

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC commented Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020 at 1:53pm

Thing that amazes me is that as a populace we seem incapable of hunkering down financially.

When covid struck (or prior to that the GFC) I get worried about the future and save every spare penny in fear I’ll lose my job etc. new boards, jet skis (yes they’re booming too), wetsuits are the last thing on my mind... and we’re not exactly Hans to mouth at our place - reasonably secure and comfortable...

Just an observation - anyone else notice this or am I Robinson Caruso (sp?)

nomad1's picture
nomad1's picture
nomad1 commented Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020 at 7:39pm

@NDC... Robinson Crusoe.

I think alot of people were like that initially then after a while people have let it slide and now just spending normally.

greyhound's picture
greyhound's picture
greyhound commented Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020 at 7:19pm

Someone else will pay for me ,,, won’t they.. the age of no responsibility..

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf commented Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020 at 9:06pm

Surfing has always Boomed in Recessions, Down Turns and Now Pandemics. Redundancy and Termination Pay Out's together with Government Handouts and Cashing in Super have all wound up in the Surf Industries Coffers.

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded commented Wednesday, 5 Aug 2020 at 4:14pm

Yep we have been noticing it!! since start of covid we are now working 12-15 hour shifts just to get the orders out.. so manufacturing still has the materials to build the boards.. but its not just the manufacturers, its the guys "who have always wanted to make a board" our orders to the backyardies, have increased by 250%!! we have guys who before covid have never made a board and they are now onto their 4-5th board!
The issues coming up though is the supplies, one finbox company ran out of boxes! (replenished this week) our resins we make in Australia one has a special raw material from Germany, we have now been waiting for over 8 weeks which would normally take 3 days.
Other suppliers are worried about whats going to be like for stock coming into summer and are warning they might run out.
So be understanding with the manufacturers making your boards as the waiting periods coming into summer might blow out