The Inertia Health Editor

As we head into spring, high school freshmen everywhere will be making the decision that will change their lives forever: which university they will attend. While a majority of the country might weigh the pros and cons of factors like number of undergraduates that pursue graduate degrees, number of campus fraternities, and crime statistics, if you surf, you likely have a scale all your own. We can’t make the decision for you, kids, but this list should give you a good idea of what schools to consider.

Top Academic Surf Schools:

Early morning study sessions... even earlier morning surf sessions.

Early morning study sessions… even earlier morning surf sessions. Photos: (R) Shutterstock/(L) Kevin Jansen

Ideal Candidate: The Surf Nerd
Sure, you surf, but you’re most likely not going to pick a college based on surfing alone. You worked hard, and you got good grades in high school. You’re looking for a school that’s academically motivated, but also a school that lets you sneak in a session between classes. You are the Surf Nerd, and here is your list.

This list was composed based on average high school GPA, average SAT composite scores, and access to a surf break within 20 miles.


As one of the premier research universities in the nation, UCLA tops the list of academic focused surf schools. A short drive away from El Porto, Santa Monica, and Malibu, UCLA is home to plenty of student surfers. The school’s recreation center in Marina Del Ray even offers surf lessons at a discounted rate for students. However, accessibility to surf doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Don’t be fooled, while you can surf and attend UCLA, be prepared with some walled beach break and 405 traffic. Despite these setbacks, UCLA incoming freshmen averaged a 4.40 GPA and 2,033 on the SAT, meaning you’ll be studying with some of the nation’s brightest. Additionally, UCLA offers exceptional graduate education with a business school, law school, and medical school all on the Westwood campus.

2. UCSD 
Well known for its pre-med program as well the renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD is recognized as one of America’s top ranked public schools. Typical accepted freshman average a 4.13 high school GPA and a 2,013 on the SAT. Strong in the sciences, UCSD is also home to one of the best medical schools in the nation. The cherry on top is that UCSD sits a couple blocks back from the trail to Black’s Beach. Yes, the Black’s Beach you see featured on every major winter swell feature or magazine cover. The deep-water canyon just off the coast channels swell directly toward the sandbars at Black’s, and should you choose to attend UCSD, you are practically assured of scoring a few legendary sessions.

3. UCSB (academic tie)
UCSB and USC are tied academically with UCSB getting the nod for the average admitted GPA (4.13 vs. USC’s 3.82), but USC averages a higher SAT composite (with USC admits falling in the 2030 – 2250 range and UCSB averaging a 1,944 score). However, in the surf department UCSB definitely edges out ‘SC. UCSB has a right hand point break on the north side of the student residential area, Isla Vista. That means a lunchtime surf session is only a bike ride away. Not to mention that UCSB is only about 20 minutes north of the Queen of the Coast: Rincon. Furthermore, Santa Barbara is known especially for its graduate programs in environmental sciences, engineering, marine biology, and education.

4. USC (academic tie)
USC is located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. With a world-class film school, USC is frequented by celebrities who want the experience of a 4-year university. ‘SC also hosts a top medical school and research program along with the widely known Marshall School of Business. In addition to its academic laurels, USC is only a quick distance up the 10 freeway from the beaches of the South Bay.

Another UC school makes the list. University of California, Santa Cruz. Located in scenic Santa Cruz, the university is surrounded by a redwood forest. The campus is less than 5 miles from Steamer Lane, and students can easily access all the waves in the Santa Cruz area. The average freshmen admit had a 3.82 GPA and scored a 1783 on the SAT. The school is nationally known for its astronomy and space science programs, and it is also recognized for having the highest percentage of female engineering grads.

Best Surf Party Schools:

Want to party, surf, and study (in that order)? Photos:(R) UCSD/

Want to party, surf, and study (in that order)? Photos:(R) UCSD/Photos: (L)

Ideal Candidate: The Fratty Surf Star
You got good enough grades to attend a 4-year university, and you do plan to take a few classes while you’re there. However, your focus will primarily be on two things: surfing and booze. College is the in your life you when you get to live it up with little to no financial responsibility, and you plan to do just that. These schools are your best bets for a well-rounded college experience that incorporates surfing.

This list was comprised off of various “top party school” rankings as well as proximity to surf beaches. 

San Diego State University is one of California’s most reputable party schools. The campus exudes fun, and it boasts a wide variety (if variety means blond and tan) of exceptionally good-looking people. SDSU also has a huge Greek Life presence, ensuring that there’s always plenty to do for students looking to socialize. Outside of Greek Life, many students live in off-campus in Ocean Beach, one the epicenters of San Diego’s bar scene.  Not to mention SDSU has easy access to San Diego’s pumping stretch of coastline. Especially during wintertime north swells, San Diego beaches light up, and students can easily score waves in between classes. SDSU tops the list of the best schools to live it up and surf your brains out.

UCSB consistently ranks in the top party schools in the nation. The Santa Barbara campus has an off-campus residential area known as Isla Vista where parties abound nearly every night of the week. Known for events like Deltopia (where students day rage and bring fleets of inflatables down to the surf) and Halloween (where the entire city of Santa Barbara is essentially on lock-down because of the wild party scene), UCSB has no shortage of fun for undergrads. Oh yeah, and there’s still the whole Campus Point, Rincon, Jalama, etc. thing. You can absolutely score waves.

3. College of Charleston
Chucktown, as its affectionately known, is home to the small, public university College of Charleston. While portions of the town are known for their quaint historic buildings and high quality cuisine, the areas frequented by college students are best known for mid-week day drinking. There are no shortage of bars to support the questionable habits of frat boys, and there’s always plenty of fun to be had in Charleston. The school also has a reputation for having an incredibly skewed guy-to-girl ration–more than 60% of the student population is female. Of course, this often works to produce a wild social scene. While Charleston might not have the most consistent surf scene, the town’s local spot, “The Washout” has been known to rival the best waves on the East Coast on its good days. While surf is minimal for the good part of the year, in the fall, students can expect plenty of waist high waves.

4. University of North Carolina Wilmington
University of North Carolina Wilmington is yet another East Coast university making the list. Academically, the school boasts one of the best marine science programs in the nation. But more importantly, the university has two surf spots locally: Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, but the campus is also conveniently located near the North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Plus, the legendary Cape Hatteras is just a 4-hour road trip away. Alongside plenty of surf, UNCW has no short of social activities for undergrads. The school is recognized as one of the top East Coast party schools. While the school is frequently made fun of for its imaginary mascot, the seahawk (which isn’t a real thing), UNCW’s party scene is no joke. With plenty of bars around Wilmington, there’s partying in abundance. Additionally, UNCW is well-known for its exceptionally good-looking female population. Fun fact: the body-double for the one and only Jennifer Aniston in We’re the Millers was a UNCW student.

5. USC
With 21 fraternities and 12 sororities, USC has one of the strongest Greek systems on the west coast, and we all know how much the Greeks love to party. “The Row,”as it is known, is one central street near campus which is home to all of ‘SC’s greek houses. With the nearest party only a couple steps down the block, Greek students can find something to do nearly every night of the week. The campus is only a short distance away from the area’s most beloved (and only) college bar, the infamous 9-0. While there’s definitely a commute to get in the water, if you have the time, El Porto is surfable most days of the year, and since LA is perpetually 75 and sunny, there are plenty of opportunities for beach days all year around.

Core Surf Schools:

Get up and get at it. THEN hit the books. Then get at it again.

Get up and get at it. THEN hit the books. Then get at it again. Photo: Point

Ideal Candidate: The Dawn Patroller
You supposedly go to school, you might eventually get a job, but in reality, you are motivated by one thing, and one thing only: surf. You might occasionally go out to interact with others, but if the waves are firing your priority is to get in the water. These waves offer the highest quality surf within a small radius of campus.

This list was comprised on the basis on the highest quality of waves available within a 50 mile radius of the campus. 

Santa Cruz has amazing waves, period. The area has amazing kelp beds that keep the waves largely protected from the Northern California winds, and spots like Steamer Lane, Pleasure Point, and Santa Cruz Harbor see good to epic conditions regularly. While the cold water, burly locals, and occasional shark sighting can be a little intimidating, somewhere in Santa Cruz is surfable almost every day of the year. Dedicated surfers can quickly adapt to the Santa Cruz lineup and score waves all year. The region is a swell magnet, and it picks up swell from almost every direction. Additionally, if the main breaks in Santa Cruz proper are too crowded, students can head north to the empty beach breaks and river mouths beyond the city limits. Santa Cruz might just be a core surfer’s paradise.

Black’s Beach is arguably the best wave in Southern California. Thanks in large part to an offshore canyon, it’s usually double the size of other breaks in the region. While the walk down the trail will whip you into shape quick, that’s about UCSD students’ biggest obstacle in the way of scoring perfect surf. A two-minute drive from campus, Black’s might just be the best study break you’ve ever seen. If for some reason students tire of their backyard, the area surrounding UCSD has waves up and down the coast. From La Jolla Shores, to the The Cove, to Windansea, to North County, San Diego offers an endless buffet of surf spots on a silver plate to UCSD students.

 3. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Cal Poly surfers often score the very best of California’s central coast. The school is located on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, and it is just a short drive away from the waves of Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, and Montana d’Oro State Park. The region is known for its brisk mornings and rugged conditions, but with enough patience and the right timing, dedicated Cal Poly surfers can score incredible waves just a short drive from campus. A nice 4/3 and booties are necessities, but well worth it for the waves of the central coast.

4. Point Loma Nazarene
Students at Point Loma have the best backyard in the world. The campus dormitories are ocean front and literally back onto the waves at Sunset Cliffs. The cliffs stretch from Point Loma all the way up toward Ocean Beach, and the region’s reef breaks offer waves more protected than those throughout most of San Diego. The Cliffs see their best conditions on moderate sized winter swells, meaning the area sees the best waves when school is in session. Students can easily sneak a surf in between classes, or before heading on campus for the day.

5. University of Hawaii at Manoa
Located in the hills behind Honolulu, UH isn’t the easiest trek to the beach. However, those willing to make the drive are rewarded with Hawaii’s best waves. The closest breaks are those of the South Shore: Kewalo’s, Kaiser’s, and Ala Moana Bowls. However, for students willing to drive a little further, the 7-mile miracle of Oahu’s North Shore is about 45 minutes away from the campus. There’s no denying this is a little bit of a pain, but considering the destination is the world’s most revered stretch of beach, the drive is well worth it. Dedicated surfers with strategically planned classes can manage a surf at Rocky Point in the morning with ample time to make it back for class in the afternoon.

Do you think your school should have made the list? Let us know! Share your thoughts in the comments section. After all, high school seniors need all the help they can get.

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