Wave-riding prof studies the culture of surf-break communities

By on June 13, 2018

Dr. Lindsay Usher is well-versed in her academic field. (Lynn Usher)

Dr. Lindsay Usher has been surfing on the Outer Banks most of her life, and she’s seen directly the impact surfing and surf tourism can have on communities.

Now, she is applying those observations to a new study that hopes to answer some questions about surfers in North Carolina and Virginia.

Usher is an assistant professor at Old Dominion who primarily researches surfers and surf culture — a job title that she says occasionally makes other people question their life decisions.

Her research follows in the footsteps of similar studies, which have found that surfers have a strong connection to their usual breaks. The term that researchers like Usher use to describe that phenomenon is “localism.”

At best, localism is surfers forming tight-knit communities around their surf break, and doing whatever they can ecologically to protect it.

“They really care about the environment because they have a deep attachment to the place that they surf,” Usher said.

Usher is an assistant professor at ODU. (Kurt Williamson)

At worst, localism can mean surfers policing who can and cannot use “their” spot. Usher’s study looks at both, as well as examining surfers’ views on topics like beach nourishment, beach access issues and what surfing organizations they belong to.

The idea for the survey came out of an independent study conducted by one of Usher’s undergraduate students, Ian Sellers. Sellers is a surfer himself and an intern at Kitty Hawk Kayak and Surf School. He and Usher worked together to develop the survey questions.

For the survey, Usher and her students are looking for participants 18 and older who frequently surf in North Carolina or Virginia. The survey is anonymous, but at the end participants can elect to enter their email address in a drawing for $50 gift cards to SurfStitch or Quicksilver.

As of now they’ve received about 150 responses, but Usher hopes to get as many as 500 to 1,000. The survey can be accessed at this link bit.ly/VA-NCsurfstudy and will most likely remain open for the rest of the summer.

As for what the data will used for, Usher says, “I guess we’ll have to see what we find.”

Usher, of course, plans to publish her results, but she also intends to make the data available to a variety of outlets, and expects that it can be useful to all sorts of organizations, from local tourism boards in Virginia and North Carolina to the Surfrider Foundation.

“It might help Surfrider find how to target new members. It could help inform management decisions. That’s what I hope it can be used for,” says Usher.

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@Transplant….yup…you nailed it! I don’t think that they teach people here what those eight sided red signs mean either. Also, all of them sitting in the OPPOSITE turn lane making a left into a gas station or whatever. Two yellow lines…CROSS ‘EM!!


Dave and Dan, living here for the past decade, I will tell you that those issues on the beach and on the road are not just from out of towners, by any means. OBX drivers are some of the worst I’ve ever experienced.

“Hey look, there is a car coming at me at 50mph, let’s wait until they are 50 ft away and then pull out on the bypass in front of them.”


@Dan, butts should be pocketed and/or trashed, agreed. I don’t care where they pee as long as they’re discreet and not pissing on someone’s vehicle(seen that too many time). The loud obnoxiousness is just part of their culture, they can’t help but act like apes, even in a peaceful setting. Dial in your peaks for each swell direction and take an older board out on crowded days(for blasting thru those VAbombers). Happy surfing y’all

Carter McKay

Wow the world can rest so much easier tonight!


man,ya shoulda been here in the 60`s an the 70`s hatteras island


Btw, I hope there wasn’t any gov’t funding for this “research” that is pretty much common sense 101…


@ Dan. I don’t surf, but I experience what you do on the roads with them.


Localism here is not bad. It should be a lot worse. We tolerate a tremendous amount of disrespect from Virginia surfers. They come here in large groups instantly crowding any spot they visit. They are loud and aggressive. They are used to surfing in large groups and being pushy. They litter cig butts and trash in out parking lots. On multiple occasions I have seen them urinate outdoors in our parking lots. They surf without leashes endangering kids in the shorebreak which will eventually force the towns to outlaw surfing during the day, just like Va Beach. They think that… Read more »


@Bill E that is not localism, but instead better surfers who are not going to let a wave past them. I would not pin that on locals as there are more non-locals than locals in the key surf spots and for some of them this is “there week” or they are here for the day and they want every wave. When the pack gets to big to be productive I usually position myself away from pack. Fewer waves to select from, but no contention. This study, however, is a waste of time and resources. The only people who are going… Read more »

Bill E

Interesting to see the final results. My wife recently accompanied me on a surf outing and was surprised when the locals swarmed around me to deny me the surf spot. After a few rides they gave me my space I gave the there’s and all good. In short you gotta earn your spot and respect the rules.