William Finnegan grappling with a knotty point. Photo courtesy of Colin Ruloff

The Inertia

The California beach town of Del Mar may never be the same again…but in a good way. Instead of the typical spring break debris, a group of twenty professors of philosophy left some scholarly bits of knowledge in their wake. Known as the PHILOsurfer Convergence, this annual event is a conference of philosophy professors who also surf. The co-founders of the conference came up with the idea in the waters of Tofino, Canada. Colin Ruloff and Patrick Findler were waiting between sets and started to talk shop.

“Hey!” said Patrick, “We’re doing philosophy and surfing. I guess that makes us philosurfers.”

A year later, the pair invited PHILOsurfers from across the continent to read academic papers and surf the cold waters of Canada. The success of the 2017 conference spurred Colin and Patrick on to organize a 2018 conference, but in warmer waters and preferably with Mexican food.

A typical conference day saw the PHILOsurfers get up for a 6 am surf session, followed by a day of academic papers such as A Dilemma for Ambitious Modal Epistemology (Felipe Leon), Moral Responsibility in Surfing (Joshua Cangelosi) and Dynamic Bodily Attunement (Aaron James), adjourning just in time for an evening surf. At a late dinner of chile relleno and carnitas tacos, the professors used their analytic skills to debate the relative merits of Trestles, Swamis, and Cardiff Reef, before retiring around 2 am.

Patrick Findler, William Finnegan, and Colin Ruloff. Photo courtesy of Ron Pritchard

One of the keynote speakers was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Finnegan, whose book Barbarian Days is a valuable documentation of surf history and a must-read for any surfer. His talk, Riffing on the Surf Memoir: Journalism, Empire, and Their Alternatives asked questions about how surfing represents “arrested development, the pursuit of transcendence, applied science, the tragedy of the commons, a branding field day, and indigenous resistance to business values.” While William Finnegan is not a professor—come on, he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner! The other keynote address on Perception, Learning, and Flux was delivered by Dr. Casey O’Callaghan of Washington University in St. Louis.

The location of the next PHILOsurfer Convergence is still being debated. The two Canadians, Colin and Patrick, are hoping to go even further south next time. It is extremely unlikely that PHILOsurfer 2019 will be held in Kansas. And when not teaching at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Colin and Patrick shape their own boards under the name Doppelgänger.


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