Some people enjoy traditional learning methods, but for me, the college experience of sitting through classes, labs, and lectures all day followed by hours in the library at night was nauseating. Instead of listening to my professor, a typical class session for me consisted of daydreaming about warm waves near the equator then watching the Wrightsville Beach surf cam, as it was located just five miles from campus. Like most surfers, all I wanted to do was travel the world and ride flawless waves in exotic locales. With that being said, my surfing skills aren’t up to par with the pros and a college education is pretty important. So, I had to find a way to surf my way through college.
Here are four steps that can get you to where you need to be:
1. Go to a school near good surf.
This one should be a no-brainer, but without it, we have nothing to work with. I grew up surfing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and knew I could never leave the coast for an extended period of time. This limited my college search, but I found that the University of North Carolina Wilmington fit my criteria for surf and a strong education. UNCW is an arrow’s shot from Wrightsville Beach and only a 20-minute drive to Carolina Beach. Even though this region doesn’t produce waves on par with the Outer Banks, it’s still an ideal location for a surfer to attend college. I mean, they even have a class called The History of Surfing.
It’s not like UNCW was the only school that would allow me to surf my way through college though. During my search, I also looked at Flagler, the University of Florida, Coastal Carolina University, San Diego State University, Pepperdine, UCSC — basically any school in California — and the University of Hawaii. I chose UNCW because it kept me close to family and made the most sense financially.
Did I mention it allowed me to keep surfing?
2. Pick a degree that allows you to surf and travel.
Once my freshman year was over and those cursed GEs were behind me, I was tasked with understanding the things I’m truly passionate about. My goal, like most college students, was to shape that passion into a degree and then shape that degree into a fulfilling and fruitful career. Through weeks of introspective thought, I realized that my life would be miserable without surfing and traveling. I considered majors like marine biology, environmental science, marketing, and international business. All of those would allow me to find a career and surf all over the world. However, none of them really stood out to me.
Finally, an advisor recommended I take a Recreation, Sports Leadership, and Tourism Management course. That decision shaped the rest of my college education. This had exactly what I wanted: courses on tourism and recreation management, nonprofit management, event planning, hospitality management, sustainable tourism, business management, and the list went on. Receiving my bachelor’s degree in this field can help me find a job anywhere in the world, doing something in the tourism industry, recreation, or hospitality. I could manage a surf resort, having my own surf school, leading surf tourism excursions – the possibilities are endless.
3. Study abroad with surf-specific programs.
Even with a great career path laid out, I still wanted to surf and travel during college. I knew that studying abroad was an option, however, surfing definitely wasn’t a part of any of the programs offered through UNCW. During class one day, I stumbled upon an article on this very website about a company named Sea State. They offered something along the lines of “surf trips for college credit,” which was obviously right up my alley. I applied that same week for a sustainable tourism course in Costa Rica during my winter break. The surfer in me was about to spend winter break catching waves on the beaches of Nosara and Avellanas while the student side of me was about to earn three credits in 10 days. Win, win.
By the time I got home I already knew I wanted to do more study abroad programs. I found a spring break course through the same organization, this time for surf journalism, in Panama. Two months later I was on a plane back to Central America. The fact that I was able to knock out my writing requirements while exploring the beauty of Panama City, surfing amazing waves in empty lineups in Playa Reina, and taking boat trips to barrier islands is completely surreal. Some of it can even be funded by financial aid, which is a major help.
4. Get an internship with a surf-positive company.
Internships are a necessary step to getting your foot in the door of the working world. My major at UNCW actually required that I do a practicum and an internship before I could graduate, which isn’t all too uncommon. Naturally, I wanted to use these requirements as a way to get into the surf and sustainable tourism world. I reached out to Sea State once more and asked to become an intern in order to get my practicum finished. With this, I was able to spend a month in Costa Rica and around 10 days in Haiti. On these excursions, I surfed every day, along with learning what it takes to lead surf sustainability-based study abroad trips.
I’m still interning today, now at an office in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. I get to surf amazing Southern California waves each day and take occasional trips to places like Nicaragua, all while gaining knowledge and experience relevant to my major. If you do your research, you can find plenty of internships that will allow you to surf and work as you go. For example, Patagonia, Surfing the Nations, Give and Surf, Surfaid, or Waves of Development as a few examples.
Note: You can learn more about the author’s own study abroad program and internship here. Sea State’s deadline for enrollment into summer 2017 programs and courses is April 30th.