BRONZED travellers gaze out over their cocktails as surfers carve up the left-hand breaks on offer in Máncora, Peru. Decades ago Máncora was little more than a somnolent fishing village surrounded by desert. Today, it is a staple of the surfer circuit with a recent swell of luxury retreats. Máncora’s transformation, everyone agrees, owes much to its wave patterns.

Just how much waves are worth has long interested surfers. Valuing waves can help fight developments like sea walls that threaten to mess up the waves. Surfonomics, pioneered by Chad Nelsen of the Surfrider Foundation, normally estimates a wave’s worth by surveying how much surfers splash out on food, drink and lodgings at a particular beach. But global and national valuations of waves have proven more elusive.

A new paper by a pair of salt-sprayed economists, Thomas McGregor and Samuel Wills of Oxford University, takes a different approach. They study data on wave quality, crowdsourced from picky surfers, and satellite images of night-time light intensity, a handy proxy for economic activity. Areas around beaches with high-quality waves have over time grown brighter and...Continue reading