Stoked to Be Studying: New Surf Research Center at San Diego State University

San Diego State University's Center for Surf Research may not be quite what you may think or hope it is. The curriculum will not include watching North Shore, analyzing the behavior of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High or studying the hydrodynamics of a surfboard riding upon ocean waves.

The focus, for now, is sustainable surf tourism. That means, as surfers tour the globe in search of a perfect wave--a la Robert August and Mike Hynson in The Endless Summer--that they leave these exotic destinations better of than they found them, in regard to their carbon footprint, as well as their social, economic and cultural impact. 

Bet you never took all of that into consideration while planning that trip to Tavarua or Indonesia.

"Surf tourism always takes place in environmentally fragile areas," said Jess Ponting, a professor in the sustainable tourism program at SDSU, who's been the primary proponent for the Center for Surf Research. He made the point that instead of introducing negative social and cultural impacts to these destinations around the world, that surfers and the tourism dollars they bring could enable positive culturally-relevant development, "instead of cutting down forests."

While sustainability is the focus of the center right now, Ponting pointed out that the name is "purposefully broad" in order to allow the introduction of future classes and disciplines. The program, for now, includes nine classes, but Ponting has reached out to other professors at SDSU who teach classes that could complement those that already exist.

Part of the program, according to Ponting, will incorporate study aboard opportunities in Peru and potentially Indonesia. The trips aren't meant to be memorable surf vacations, instead, students will stay in homestays and work with local organizations. The end result, Ponting says, is to "absolutely blow students minds" in hopes that they will "come back and become conservation activists instead of passersby."

The Center is run entirely on philanthropic donations and self-funding programs; it receives no state funds at the moment, something Ponting was particularly proud of: "surfers really care about the environment and these different destinations."

While some may laugh at the notion of surf research, Ponting believes there is a lot to be researched and understood through the multi-billion dollar surf industry. 

Ponting has been working at SDSU--what he calls a "research renegade"--for three years, and was excited that the university supported this idea for the Center, one he's had since 1996. 

"I feel I often have to justify the relevancy of what I'm trying to do," he said. "The study of tourism is an academic discipline like study of math or sociology."


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