A new surf minor is in the process of being developed with the hopes of teaching a variety of academic topics related to surfing and taking advantage of the school’s proximity to the ocean. While the minor will involve all students getting in the water, the idea of surfing isn’t being approached solely as the literal sport, but rather more as a mindset, addressing all facets that the surf lifestyle entails.
“I’ve come to believe that surfing is a metaphor for something much larger than the sport itself. It’s a state of mind and a way of life,” said Dr. Ben Cater, Associate Dean of General Education and Director of the Humanities Honors program. “It has a philosophy. It has a literature. It has an aesthetic, a visual art. It even has a music. There’s a sport and a business to it,” Cater is the leading developer of the surf minor.
No other major universities in the San Diego area list similar programs on their websites, though many do have some type of recreational surf class available, whether for credit or just for entertainment. SDSU has the Center for Surf Research within their school of hospitality and tourism, though their research focuses on sustainable surf tourism as opposed to the interdisciplinary approach Cater is taking to his program.
“We’re close by the Pacific Ocean, which is our greatest endowment. I’m so surprised no one’s done it yet,” said Cater. “I’ve told professor friends from PLNU, Westmont, Cal Berkeley and more about it, and they’re really intrigued. A few asked if they could help teach it.”
Cater plans to submit a proposal by the end of this year. If the program is approved by the Academic Policy Committee and the Curriculum committee, and approved by a general faculty governance, a surf minor may be a part of the PLNU curriculum within one or two years, according to Cater.
“The idea itself might be stunning or shocking, but it’s totally rational. A billion dollar industry is onto something. It must be studied.” Cater said. The minor would be made to be academic but accessible, with three to four classes comprising the entirety of the course. Guest speakers from the surf industry would be featured, and would possibly feature classes or lectures on surf history, literature, art, and business, among other subjects.
According to Cater, he hopes to tap into the more spiritual side of surfing that many surfers connect to.
“If you were to think of a surfer, you might think of someone who talks about surfing in a mystical sense. Surfing is better understood not only as a sport but as a state of mind. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of connecting with something bigger and greater than you, with animals and with other people. It’s a way of figuring out who you are” Cater said.
There are few places on PLNU’s campus that the ocean cannot be seen when looking west. Ocean life, the surf, and the spiritual connection it holds for some have become an integral part of PLNU life. For sophomore childhood and adolescent major Brooklyn Hulse, it is a means of connecting with God.
“Everytime before I get in the water I pray and remind myself that God created everything and everyone that I’m about to encounter and seeing it in that view changes my mindset as I surf to be focused on God and enjoy his beautiful creations,” said Hulse, who is a member of the surf team and has been in the waves since she was four, though she got serious about the sport in eighth grade.
This sentiment is shared by other students on campus, including senior journalism major Joe Carlsile, a staff writer for Surfer Magazine.
“I’m drawn to surfing because it makes great days even better and allows my mind to wander and process my thoughts. I’d say that surfing is certainly a deep experience for me. It allows me to return to what nature intended itself to be and to appreciate the beauty that is presented to us,” said Carlsile, who has been surfing since he was 14.
If students are interested in the program, Cater encourages them to contact him either by phone, email, or in person at his office in the Dean’s Center.