I accidentally joined the San Diego State University Speech and Debate Team. I knew I needed “x” number of classes from “x” number of boxes to meet “x” number of graduation requirements. I scanned course names, numbers, and most importantly, course schedules. I scrutinized over days and times that class sessions would be held and tried to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of applicable courses for my degree while providing myself with the most ample surf schedule possible. Priorities were clear for me as a frothing grom/student and not the other way around. I consistently wound up registering, rather blindly, for courses that favored time in the water versus time on campus. I assumed a course titled “Forensics in Communication” was going to be a class that more or less mirrored the popular television series CSI. Turns out the course was the SDSU Speech and Debate Team and I was the newest member.
If there are two things I love, it’s women and media. That being said, I got kicked out of my “Women and Media” course for choosing to photograph a surf trip to Fiji rather than taking my heavily-weighted midterm. I did the math. If I got an “A” on every other assignment for the rest of the semester, I could squeak by with a “D” in the course, and then I could balance out my GPA by putting in the extra effort in other remaining courses. I came back from my surf photography trip to Fiji and assumed a seat near the back of the classroom trying to blend in with the students who were not dripping salt water from their noses. The moment the professor noticed my presence in her classroom, she half-questioned/half-demanded, “What are you doing in my classroom!?” I explained to her that according to the available points left in the course, I could still technically pass. Turns out she didn’t care what the math implicated. She simply sputtered, “You are not going to pass my class. Just leave.”
I took a semester off of college to search for tubes, adventure, and myself. A feeling of claustrophobia ensued. I was so deep down the rabbit hole of the evolution of the typical American youth–graduate high school, score high on your SATs, get straight into college, find that internship, graduate college, and get hired straight into that high-paying job. I was halfway through my college career and I did not have a clue as to where I wanted the future to lead me. I panicked, threw a handful of belongings into a board bag, bought a series of one-way tickets, and headed off to horizons unknown. Six months later, I returned with a refreshing clarity for my desired future as a surf philanthropist and photographer and I possessed a newfound enthusiasm for my courses and curriculum.
After spending years arranging my courses around time in the water, I came to the realization that I could gear my courses to be about my time in the water. Projects and papers took on a unified theme. My professional desires were projected into my course work and my professors appreciated the passion and practical application that engulfed my deliverables.
As I approached my graduation date, I met Dr. Jess Ponting quite by accident. I was introduced to him at a meeting for the “Recreation and Tourism Student Association.” Another club I joined without knowing it. Turns out it was a great club to be a part of and I made some highly-valuable connections that I still network with to this day–Dr. Ponting being one of them. After I graduated, we collaborated and bounced ideas off of each other. I was building the foundation for my non-profit organization, Surf Resource Network, and he was breathing life into his long-term vision of creating the world’s first “Center for Surf Research.” We launched our projects simultaneously and created a symbiotic relationship to enable for continued collaboration. Three years later, Surf Resource Network has been actively working in surf destinations around the globe to help local communities benefit from the presence of surf tourism. The Center for Surf Research at SDSU has officially opened, is currently consulting for the surf industry, and enabling SDSU students the opportunity to get involved.
I have gotten heavily involved with Surf Resource Network projects and programming in the community of Robertsport, Liberia. After being accepted with open arms by the local community, I have now made the small fishing village a second home. One of my best friends and fellow SDSU alumni, Daniel Hopkins, and I decided to open the first surf resort in the West African nation. After a year of planning and six months of development, Kwepunha Retreat is now operational and taking guests. At Kwepunha Retreat, we aim to become fully sustainable by helping improve health, education, and job opportunities for the local community and minimizing our environmental and cultural impacts. We are also committed to donating 15% of annual profits back to the community through Surf Resource Network programming. Dr. Ponting gladly accepted a seat on our board of directors as well as Dr. Jenkins, founder of SurfAid International. Their expertise, coupled with the Center for Surf Research, have been valuable resources in the development of our sustainable initiatives.
This past year, I was accepted to the first cohort of SDSU’s Hospitality Tourism Management Master’s Program and the university is letting me do an emphasis in sustainable surf tourism using Kwepunha Retreat as my working project. Plus, I am currently completing the curriculum from Liberia!
Kwepunha Retreat, Surf Resource Network, and the Center for Surf Research are currently working towards creating experiential opportunities for SDSU students to visit Liberia, get hands-on with community-based projects, learn about sustainable tourism, and surf perfect waves- all for course credit! There may be an SDSU trip planned to Liberia as early as the summer of 2013. Keep your ears open…
The point is this: the days of scheduling your courses to accommodate your surf schedule are over because there are now educational opportunities that are centered around surfing, tourism, and sustainability. You don’t have to accidentally join the Speech and Debate Team just to sneak in an extra surf.
See you in the water. I mean, see you in class.
All the best from Liberia,