• Angad Chowdhry

Scuba Diving vs. Surfing: Segmenting the Different Consumer Groups

When people who love the ocean come together, they can achieve extraordinary things.

- Frances Beinecke

For many people across the globe, the underwater world holds mystery, wonder, and adventure. If given a chance to go on a getaway, they will instantly pick a place by the sea or the ocean. These are the same people who love to partake in the two most popular water-related sports in the world: Surfing and Scuba Diving.

The history of Surfing goes back to the times of the Polynesians of Hawaii, who considered the sport an essential part of their religion. The practicing of rituals involved in shaping surfboards was a ceremony in itself, and the sport eventually went viral. On the other hand, scuba diving originated much later, when diving engineer Henry Fleuss invented the first scuba breathing apparatus in 1878. The sport became popular around the time of the Second World War.

Over the years, both aquatic sports have been warmly welcomed by people of all age groups across the globe. Hawaii, Bali, California, Australia, South Africa, and Indonesia are some of the most popular surfing and scuba diving destinations today.

What are people talking about?

We deployed our Culture AI to identify what people are talking about on social media. For surfing-related posts, we identified a cluster of words associated with capturing photographs. Terms such as “surfing vid,” ”photo credit,” and “beautiful surf photos” suggest that people perceive surfing to be a ‘cool’ sport. Photographs capturing them riding the waves on the surfboard is as much a motivating factor to pursue the sport as the adrenaline rush!

We also detected words related to kids learning how to surf. “Surf kids” and “Happy parenting” depict the fact that parents want to encourage their children to learn surfing at a young age so that they can master the sport. This reflects the universal appeal of the sport among all age groups, and underscores its benefits on physical and mental endurance. Parents generally tend to pick activities that aid the holistic development of their kids, which is why a challenging sport like surfing makes for the ideal activity.

In addition to being advantageous for children, surfing also proves to be a good family bonding activity. Words such as “quality time”, “happy family day”, and “happy parenting” signify this.

We noticed that a number of women are a part of the surfing community. The trending term “surf like a girl” alludes to the increased participation of women surfers, and invalidates gender stereotypes relating to adventure sports.

Words relating to scuba diving, on the other hand, focus on the underwater life that people have encountered. Marine animals such as “hermit crabs,” “manta rays,” and “dolphins” are rare creatures to come across, and divers proudly share glimpses of this world with people who have not witnessed it.

There is also much chatter around the process of getting certified for scuba diving, as it is a technical sport. Terms such as “PADI open water” and “wreck divecourse” reflect posts about the seriousness and rigor involved in clearing the exams and joining a community of scuba divers worldwide who are equally passionate about marine life and committed to the sport.

To understand the main consumer segments who are into these two sports, we studied related hashtags from over 2000 Instagram posts, including terms like #scubaaddict, #scubadivinglife, #surfporn, and #surfinglife. We came up with the following consumer groups:

Key consumer segments: Surfers

Adrenaline junkies

One of the most appealing aspects of surfing for most people is the adrenaline rush induced while hitting the waves. The thrill of standing up on the surfboard, trying to balance and fight the ripples, and eventually coming crashing down in the water is an unmatched delight for surfers. Surfing also releases endorphins into the bloodstream and induces a feel-good sensation that creates an addiction to the sport for surfers.

Many people in this segment that live close to the sea partake in the sport because it is a more exciting substitute to exercising. Trying to get up on the surfboard while fighting the waves burns many calories and helps keep fit.

Athleisure fashionistas

Believe it or not, but an entire group of people loves to surf only because of the attractive apparel they get to flaunt! Brands such as Roxy, Ripcurl, Hurley, and Quiksilver have broad selections of wetsuits, surfboards, and other water gear and a ‘cool quotient’ attached to their names.

The key incentive for this category of surfers is the aesthetic appeal of their attire and how others would perceive them on the beach or even on social media. This group is trying to portray a casual, mellowed, and stylish vibe, and dressing in athleisure enables them to do so. This segment is a mix of beginner, amateur, and professional surfers.

The wave masters

This segment of people enjoy the thrill of surfing and love the challenge of being able to master one of the most complex sports in the world. Understanding and adapting to elements such as the wind, tides, and waves is a complicated process. However, once mastered, it provides a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that is incomparable. It is a physical and mental endeavor that requires relentless effort and consistent practice, which is not for the faint-hearted.

This segment generally consists of professional surfers that are fighting the waves on a daily basis.

Key consumer segments: Scuba Divers

The explorers

Unlike surfers, scuba divers are not looking for a fast-paced adventure. The journey of exploring different corals, reefs, and marine life is a more important aspect of wanting to dive compared to the mere thrill of the sport. In that sense, the gratification of diving for this segment lies in the mental pleasure derived from traversing to a whole new world underwater.

Often, when this group does not get the chance to encounter interesting spottings underwater (as a result of bad weather or choppy waters), it could create a sense of disappointment or even frustration since exploration is the primary motive for engaging with the sport.

The achievers

One of the primary reasons this segment is motivated to participate in the sport is because of the meticulous process involved in becoming a certified scuba diver. Even though this group appreciates the thrill and excitement of the sport, they equally enjoy learning more about the diving equipment, buoyancy-related factors, and other skills required underwater.

Conscientious effort and dedication to getting Open-water or Advanced-water certified gives them a sense of accomplishment and increases the enjoyment they derive from the sport. After all, what fun is diving without a bit of challenge?

Marine enthusiasts

The most unique and appealing aspect of scuba diving is the plethora of diversity and marine life underwater. Whether it is encountering a rare whale shark in the ocean, exploring a ship-wreck, or admiring vibrant coral reefs — the sole motivator to undertake this sport is the abundance of nature one can come across while diving.

Unlike the explorer segment, this group is more educated about the type of sea life and landscape they will witness at each dive spot. For this reason, they are slightly pickier about which diving sites they wish to visit.

Understanding search behavior trends

To decipher the popularity of both sports, we studied consumer search behavior using relevant keywords.

While searches for terms relating to scuba diving increased by 3% in the period leading up to March 2021 (compared to the same time frame in 2019), those for surfing rose by 16% in the same period. Sample search keywords used for scuba diving were “learn scuba diving near me,” and “scuba diving near me,” and those relating to surfing were “surfing lessons near me,” and “surf shops.”

This data calls attention to the fact that surfing has been rising more in popularity than scuba diving, potentially because learning the sport involves less time commitment than diving. For those wanting to get a quick dose of adrenaline and learn a new sport, surfing fulfills both criteria and offers an enthralling experience.

Another reason why surfing has spiked in popularity over the pandemic is that people have felt idle, isolated, and bored during extended periods of lockdown. With restrictions slowly easing, they are looking for exciting activities to start engaging in immediately.

Scuba Diving companies can consider shorter learning courses and promote introductory programs such as the PADI Discover Scuba Diving program for those interested in it but don’t want to commit to it yet or simply want instant gratification.

All in all, it seems that there is a distinct overlap in both the consumer segments. Not only do surfers and scuba divers enjoy the prospect of learning a new and exciting skill, but they also share a common passion for spending a fraction of their time exploring and experiencing the vast ocean.

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