The pursuit of a college degree may not seem like the most practical way to chase surf, binding yourself to one location for an extended period of time and saddling yourself with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt just to postpone your eventual entry into the Rat Race in service of paying down your federally subsidized debt. Oh, how Dora would rage!
But there are obviously advantages to furthering your formal education. Regardless of your career path, a college degree is now the lowest barrier to entry to the jobs market. The unemployment rate for college graduates hovers around 2 percent. And those with a degree from a four-year academic institution earn 90 percent more on average than those without a post-high school education. Unless you're one of the lucky few whose resume will include the single-line entry "professional surfer," in order to surf for the rest of your life, you'll need money. And while there may be other ways to get it, a job is the most practical (and legal) recourse.
So college is good idea, but let's talk trade-offs. You're going to be tied to one specific location for four (or more) years of your life. You might as well find a school within striking distance of a sliver of coastline offering ample opportunities for aquatic-based matriculation between classes. Also, it's (almost) as important to make sure the school provides a quality education.
To make life easier on both you and your guidance counselor, we pored over university pamphlets, surf reports, and statistics–taking into consideration surf proximity and quality, academics, cost and lifestyle–to narrow down America’s most surf-friendly four-year schools. The list we've assembled includes ten prestigious institutions, revered by many surfers for their high academic standards, illustrious alumni, and, not coincidentally, their nearness to quality surf.
Here’s No. 1 on our list….
No. 1: University of California San Diego
La Jolla, CA
Sitting on the cliffs overlooking Black’s Beach, UCSD offers relatively unfettered access to one of Southern California's crown jewels. Good at nearly any size, Black's alone would be enough to land USCD on our list of Top 10 Surf Colleges. Throw in its central locality among 70 miles of San Diego coastline, and it's easy to see why the school put up high numbers for proximity to surf. Don't want to hassle with the crowds at Black's? Drive 10 minutes north or south and you'll find fun numerous reefbreaks and beachbreaks (unfortunately, you might find the number of heads in the lineup to be comparable, as well, but hey!).
Not only does UCSD rank as the No. 7 public university in the country, UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean and earth science research, education, and public service in the world. An added perk: UCSD offers a 1-unit course called "The Physics of Surfing.”
Town and campus
While La Jolla is often viewed from the outside looking in as a ritzy, snobbish, conservative enclave, certainly UCSD, and the surf community abutting the area's hallowed reef passes, helps maintain the region's bohemian reputation, and politically purple makeup. Meanwhile, PB's more blue-collar confines—replete with its notorious post-collegiate debauchery—are just a short drive away. And Encinitas—perhaps the most free-spirited, low-key stretch of San Diego coastline—is not far north.
San Diego beach towns may as well have invented beach culture. And you'll find no shortage of low-key enclaves peppering the PCH from Mission Beach northward. College students have been virtually priced out of La Jolla for at least two decades, yet the nearby surf-centric beach towns of PB and Mission Beach offer relatively affordable rentals and teem with college students from nearby San Diego State and San Diego University. Offering a plethora of gastropubs, craft cocktail lounges, and third-wave coffee shops, the city's resurgent urban core has also become a hub for the preferred haunts of the Millennial class.
Annual cost: $31,500 in-state / $59,500 out-of-state
Average GPA of incoming freshman: 4.0
Male/Female ratio of student body: 48/52
Perks: Walking distance to one of the best beachbreaks on the planet, and Baja’s only an hour south.
A Word from an Alumnus: “UCSD is the best school to be a surfer because it's the perfect cover-up. People take you seriously because you’re going to a ‘smart’ school. In the meantime, you get to learn Blacks' most intimate curves for at least four years.” —Evan Slater, Hurley VP of Marketing
Best Surf Colleges 2018