a guide to exponential growth explained using surfers by jj midwinter

A Surfer’s Guide to Exponential Growth

Words by JJ Midwinter & images by JJ Midwinter

Or, Why We Should Take COVID-19 And Social Distancing Seriously


Imagine a hidden gem of a beach, with perfect peeling waves.  No one knows about it.

Work is cancelled for some reason, so we can all surf everyday.

Every day, each person who visits the beach can’t help but tell one other person about it, so…

On Day One: One person surfs the break, and tells a friend.

On Day Two: We have two people, who both go home and tell a friend.



And On Day Three:  We have four people.


And on and on…

So, here’s a question for you:

If it takes 60 days to completely fill 100% of the beach, how long will it take to half-fill the beach?


The answer is 59 days.  The beach goes from half-full, to completely full on the last day.  Everything is basically fine, until it very suddenly isn’t.

Another question:  On what day do people cover 1% of the beach?


The answer is Day 54!  For a long time the situation doesn’t really seem like an issue…  But extremely quickly things get out of control.

Please follow social distancing guidelines, so that we can protect our most vulnerable people.  #stayhome and #flattenthecurve


This photo-essay was inspired and reframed for surfers from a talk by Dr Joe Hanson for It’s Okay To Be Smart and PBS, that used water lilies for the metaphor.  You can watch that, here.

Surf Simply would like to thank photographer and visual artist JJ Midwinter for allowing us to share this important work so swiftly.  We plan to revisit James’s beautifully minimalist and monochromatic representations of surfers in a future gallery article.  In the meantime though, please check out his website jjmidwinter.com or give him a follow on instagram @jjmidwinter.




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