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Surfing rides a wave of popularity during pandemic

11 July 2022

Australians of all ages are returning to sport as the sector continues to bounce back after more than two years of disruptions through the pandemic.

A woman surfs high on a wave while another woman paddles on her surfboard in the foreground
Almost 200,000 Australians, mostly women, have started surfing since 2019. Photo: Surfing Australia

According to the Australian Sports Commission’s (ASC) latest national AusPlay report, titled ‘How Australians’ participation in sport and physical activity is adapting to COVID-normal’, surfing and skate sports are becoming more popular, especially among women.

An estimated 196,000 Australians 15+ have taken up surfing and 119,000 have taken up skate sports since 2019. The majority of these are women.

Among team sports, basketball (with an estimated 219,000 extra participants), football/soccer (196,000), volleyball (121,000) and cricket (102,000) are leading the sector’s COVID-19 recovery after recording significant increases in participation since 2019.

Activities that can be enjoyed physically distanced like bushwalking, tennis, canoeing/kayaking and mountain biking continued to increase in 2021. Others like running, swimming, cycling, yoga, golf and fishing levelled off in 2021 after increasing in 2020.

Older Australians (55+) continue to be more likely to participate in sport or physical activity 7+ times a week (30%) than those aged 15-34 (24%) and 35-54 (25%).

ASC CEO Kieren Perkins OAM has welcomed the findings that show Australians are returning to physically active lifestyles.

“Following the challenges we’ve all been through, I’m delighted to see that the sport sector is helping Australians get active again,” Mr Perkins said.

“There are positive signs that children are returning to organised sport and physical activity outside of school after reaching their lowest point in 2020-21. Adults are also participating in more activities than they did two years ago, and while men and boys are driving the return to clubs, women continue to be physically active more often.

“Organised sport and physical activity benefit local communities across Australia and sport will continue to be at the heart of so many Australians on the green and gold runway to Brisbane 2032.”

Exergaming has also skyrocketed into the top 20 sports and physical activities as Australians looked for other ways to be active during COVID-19.

Using game consoles or online platforms increased 100 times since 2019, with less than 10,000 participants to 935,000 in 2021. Exergaming, or using a Wii Fit, Xbox, PlayStation or indoor smart trainer or treadmill now has a similar number of participants to pilates and basketball.

Mr Perkins said the rise in technology-based exercise was led largely by families with children, under 35s and those living in areas affected by the Delta wave in the middle of 2021.

“It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as traditional sport and physical activities become more easily available again,” he added.

Physical health and enjoyment remain the top motivating factors to exercise but exercising for social reasons and for mental health continue to grow, with women more motivated by mental health benefits than men.

Our four-legged friends also helped Australians get active with the number of people using “walking the dog” as motivation for being active steadily increasing since 2019.

AusPlay identifies sport and physical activity habits across the country and how been examining the impact of COVID-19 on the sector since October 2020, giving the ASC two full calendar years of data collecting during the pandemic.

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