S.E.R.F. Academy

This is so not what Spicoli envisioned. Twenty-seven years after surfers became the symbol for anti-education, Tarzana surfer Chris Faucher and renowned surf journalist Matt George came up with an idea to change all that. They began their quest last year with a floating "surf journalism/humanitarian outreach" college-accredited course in the Mentawais. It was a huge success, and they'll be rolling out four more of those expeditions this summer. But Faucher felt that surf-centric education doesn't just have to be during a dream trip to Indonesia; it can start right here at home. Introducing the S.E.R.F. Academy in Tarzana, the first-ever surf-centric high school. Since we have no idea what to expect ourselves, we'll let him tell you about it.

SURFING MAGAZINE: How did the idea for the SERF Academy come about? Was it an offshoot of the SERF Expeditions or was this the original vision?

CHRIS FAUCHER: I made a conscious decision, 3 years ago, to blend the worlds of academia and surfing in a meaningful way. The idea was to do this by connecting the past, present and future contributions our community brings to the worlds of Art, Music, Science, Literature, Philosophy, History, Writing, Environmental & Humanitarian “Actionism” and positive Social change.

S.E.R.F. Academy builds upon the success of our university, middle and high school programs, combining a challenging College Prep High School Curriculum with Environmental, Humanitarian and Ocean Studies in a setting embracing Outdoor Education, Community Involvement and Surfing.

We launched our college level S.E.R.F. Program (Surfers, Education & Relief Training) last summer in the Mentawais, offering 3 units of university credit through our Surf Journalism {{{Expedition}}} course. The mission of our program–Teaching Hearts, Opening Minds, Changing Lives–guided us as we fully immersed our students in an academic, humanitarian and surfing adventure that pushed them mentally, physically and emotionally.

Why hold it in the valley?

S.E.R.F. Academy hopes to create a destination for the Valley’s surf community to rally around two things that are vitally important–Education & Surfing. Tarzana’s close proximity to the 101 FWY provides a logistical advantage. With Ventura and Rincon up the road for mid-week go-outs, local beaches just over the hill, and southern breaks close enough for our Friday exploration sessions, the valley allows us to plan our surfing program around swell direction without limitation.

Our Stewardship Through Environmental Mentorship program (S.T.E.{{{M}}}.) has begun an organic farming project in the mountains above Lake Castaic, and works closely with Mountains Restoration Trust–a committed group of mentors providing environmental education to our students, as well as leadership in conservation work within {{{Malibu}}} Creek State Park and Old Topanga {{{Canyon}}}.

Combine those elements with our Humanitarian Education and Relief Training program (H.E.A.R.T.), which utilizes local rock climbing and hiking sites, and teams our students with outdoor education instructors and guest medical/health professional lecturers, and it becomes clear why Tarzana is a prime location for S.E.R.F. Academy.

How will it function? Number of students, number of teachers, hours?

S.E.R.F. Academy will limit enrollment this year to just 40 students to insure our ability to stay mobile and creative. Our Core Studies Curriculum is taught by an outstanding group of instructors whom I’ve been working with for the past 12 years. Together we’ve established a culture based on the idea that education is more than a transfer of information–It’s a process of mentorship which guides students toward developing a sense of wisdom as they move through our program.

Students will attend school Monday thru Friday, with academics being taught from 8am~2pm–Monday~Thursday. Depending on the swell, students will take part in 2 surf sessions per week–One session will either be an afternoon go-out (during daylight savings) or an early morning surf during the winter, with the second session taking place on Friday, when we’ll combine surfing with some kind of environmental or humanitarian project.

Students will participate in Surf Studies courses from 2:15pm~4:00pm three days per week.

High School is the most important investment a parent can make in their child’s future. A solid foundation consisting of equal parts academic and personal development is critical in preparing for the challenges that higher learning and life have to offer.

I’m assuming California state standards will be taught. Will surfing and ocean-awareness be incorporated into the core curriculum? Will the math word problems be about Kelly’s world title count? Will you have to read Drew Kampion poems in English class? In other words: how “surf” will the SERF Academy be?

The S.E.R.F. Academy Core Studies Curriculum meets or exceeds the requirements for college entrance.

Our program thrusts students into experiential learning as they gain insight into who they are in the context of the world around them. We’ve developed strong relationships with scientists, national and international surf media, humanitarian and environmental organizations, and top photojournalists and filmmakers to create a program giving students unprecedented access to the highest levels of knowledge and experience.

We’re especially excited about our relationship with Coastal Marine Biolabs in Ventura Harbor. This Integrative Biosciences Program, developed and directed by Ralph Imondi, Ph.D. and Linda Santschi, Ph.D., provides innovative field and laboratory-based learning experiences. S.E.R.F. Academy students will spend 10 days each year working closely with the CMB team as part of our Ocean & Marine Studies program. Our relationship with CMB will also allow our students to become SCUBA certified.

Surfing will play a large role in our curriculum, as it naturally complements every component of our Core Studies Curriculum…Let’s take science for example: Putting Marine Biology and Oceanography aside, surfing can be used as a model for addressing many scientific principals. From the hydrodynamic principles associated with surfboard design, to the chemistry of surfboard construction, surfing offers a plethora of connections for our science program. Working alongside our Core Studies Team, guest lecturers will connect Surf Studies in creative and inspirational ways. Literature courses will read and analyze surf novels alongside traditional novels, comparing and contrasting ideas and styles as they relate to the larger themes being covered. Writing and Photojournalism courses will cover material written by surf journalists and mainstream journalists, using both as models for crafting well-written, creative pieces.

Literature, Writing, and Photojournalism courses will be taught by our Core Studies Team and visiting Surf Writers—how stoked will the students be? Imagine sitting in their seat as a high school student!!

Surf History in the context of World and American History. The Surf Industry explored as a model for study during econ class.

How about a World Geography course incorporating Meteorology and Surf Forecasting taught by professionals working for online surf report sites. Students will be inspired to learn geography in a class that identifies surf spots around the world, and explores the reasons why they break like they do.

These are just a few examples of the ways S.E.R.F. Academy will fully integrate surfing into our program.

Are specialized academies for high school students becoming more accepted in the academic world? How common are they and how would a university like, say, Berkeley or Stanford look at someone who’s attended a high school like this?

College, on one hand, has been reduced to a numbers game…SAT…ACT…GPA. However what makes one person stand out from another is the diversity of experience they’ve participated in during their high school journey. Counselors are willing to take a closer look at a student with an interesting story, and a program like ours, with multidimensional components, is sure to warrant a second, third, or fourth glance when it comes to admissions. We’ve also incorporated an SAT prep component into our curriculum to prepare students for the rigors of the testing process.

Will there be a pure “Surf PE” component?

Our P.E. program will be geared toward physical and mental well-being, two components that are vital to performance both in and out of the water. A comprehensive strength training, endurance, and flexibility program, along with yoga and meditation will help S.E.R.F. Academy students progress in their skill development, bring a focused effort to their studies and develop habits conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Of course our weekly surf sessions will count for P.E. credit as well.

Can students who aren’t from the surrounding area enroll? Do you have to surf to be in the SERF academy?

Great question. S.E.R.F. Academy is for any student interested in the Ocean Lifestyle. All levels of skill are welcome. For those not interested in surfing, our curriculum offers all the benefits of a college prep program combined with lots of outdoor education opportunities. Students not in the water will become documentarians, shooting photos and film to be used in photojournalism and docufilms projects.

What’s the ultimate goal for you as a founder and educator at the SERF Academy? What do you hope each graduating student will walk away with?

My ultimate goal is to create a program that pushes the boundaries of education, elevates the surf community, and grows the next generation of leaders. The educational opportunities of my childhood have become overshadowed by the ever increasing dominance of technology as the mentor of today’s youth. As our lives have grown more harried and hurried, so too have the lives of those who deserve better, but don’t know enough to ask for it…our kids. School allows us to explore who we are and what we might become. It challenges us to answer the question, “What is My Gift to the World?”, and to view ourselves within the context of the world around us. S.E.R.F. Academy embraces the task of challenging its community of learners to be more than students, and looks to them to act as Humanitarians and Stewards of the Environment. We believe success comes from a healthy Mind, Body & {{{Spirit}}}, and strive to expose students to an experience that transcends the classroom.

We hope our students embrace life with Stoke.

[For more info, go to www.SERFAcademy.com]