The institutional foundations of surf break governance in Atlantic Europe
The sport of surfing is best enjoyed with one rider on one wave, but crowding makes that optimal assignment increasingly hard to attain. This study examines the phenomenon of surf localism, whereby competitors are excluded from waves by intimidation and the threat of violence. An alternative way to accommodate crowds is contained in the surfer's code, which sets informal rules and self-enforced regulations to avoid conflict in the water. Both regimes establish property rights over common pool resources with no state intervention, creating a setting wherein users face the question of cooperation or conflict. The disposition to cooperate and follow norms has been shown to vary substantially across different cultures, though. Employing data from over seven hundred surf spots on the European Atlantic coast, this study reports evidence that certain informal cultural norms significantly reduce the probability of violent exclusion, while formal state institutions mostly are irrelevant. The results also indicate that informal norms become more important with greater resource quality and, possibly, with increasing scarcity.