Sharks and surfboard sales

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

Explain the impact on the market for surfboards in Southern California.?

Large sharks are reported feeding near the beaches of Southern California.

The answer your instructor expects is probably along the lines of “demand curve shifts to the left”, i.e., fear of sharks causes some people not to go surfing, which results in fewer surfboards sold.

This reasoning, however, is extremely crude and ignores two important things.

First, surfboards are generally long-term purchases. The explosive growth in surfboard sales has long since ended, so people generally buy new surfboards either because they just took up surfing (which, if memory serves, accounts for about 40% of buyers) or because they are ready to replace their current surfboard. Neither is likely to change because of a short-term shark scare. Purchases of surfboards by rental places will not be affected, either, as they are usually made ahead of the season.

Second, one thing we know about sharks is that they are avid travelers, covering great distances in constant search for food. So if you see a shark today, there is one thing you can be sure of: it will be far away a week later. Surfers, of all people, know that.

So a sophisticated answer to your question would be, shark fears will have no material impact on surfboard sales. The impact your instructor expects may, however, happen elsewhere: in tourist trade, such as surfboard rentals and surfing instruction…

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