The Surf-Specific Degree

Giving the B.S. degree a whole new meaning

Study at the Center for Surf Research at SDSU, and some of the best waves in Southern California are a short jaunt away. Photo: Ghiglia
Study at the Center for Surf Research at SDSU, and some of the best waves in Southern California are a short jaunt away. Photo: Ghiglia

If you’re a high school surfer panicking about what to study in college, or if you’re the parent of one and you’re worried that your young shredder doesn’t have the academic commitment for a university degree, there may be hope for the both of you. As the amount of surfers planet-wide grows and grows (sigh), so too do the complexities of the international business of surf. Remarkably, some universities are now offering fully-fledged bachelor’s degrees in surfing, while a few schools even enroll students in post-graduate programs that focus on surfing. So, high school seniors out there, take note: you don’t have to major in some awful subject, like, God forbid, history. You can actually study surfing. For a degree.

The most well-known degree program is Plymouth University’s Surf Science and Technology BSc. The program was founded at Plymouth’s Cornwall campus in 1999 and has since handed out hundreds of degrees. Surf culture, history, marketing, fitness, and environmental studies all contribute to a diploma that the college hopes will prepare graduates for careers in the surf industry, or in environmentally-conscious non-profit companies. Similar degree programs have since been started in Australia, at Southern Cross University and at Edith Cowan University. The Southern Cross program aims to churn out surf apparel marketers and surf media workers, while Edith Cowan steers toward graduating future surf coaches.

Though it doesn’t yet offer a degree, San Diego State University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management launched the Center for Surf Research in 2011, a research department focused on sustainable surf tourism. A handful of classes on the economy of surf travel and some seriously desirable study abroad programs are offered by the program.

Just last month, Australian/U.S. expat shaping legend Tom Wegener upped the ante on these piddly bachelor’s degrees by starting a PhD program in surf studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. He’ll be studying the impacts of globalization on the surfboard building industry, with an eye trained on the decline of independent shapers on the Sunshine Coast. He’s getting a grant from the Sunshine Coast Council to do this, and while causes of the decline may seem obvious—factory-made boards drive prices below what hand-shapers can match—a thorough understanding of how globalization affects board making could go a long way toward alleviating the pain felt by shapers on the Sunshine Coast. And Wegener’s certainly the man to do it. On top of selling one of his board models through Global Surf Industries, he’s got the academic chops as well, having earned a law degree at the University of San Diego.

So from now on, try to use your indoor voice out there in the lineup. The surfer next to you might be “studying.”

For more info on the above-mentioned degree programs, click away at the links below:
Plymouth University’s Degree in Surf Science and Technology
Southern Cross University Diploma in Sports Management (Surfing Studies)
Edith Cowan University Major in Surf Science
SDSU Center for Surf Research