• Shauna Rush

CAN YOU SURF AND EARN A DEGREE?

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

This article was originally published on October 31st, 2018.


It looks like the Beach Boys were right about California. "If everybody had an ocean across the USA, then everybody'd be surfin’, like Californ-i-a."


This year, California Governor Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov), declared surfing the state’s “official” sport. Brown signed a bill into law stating that surfing is a California icon. After the sport was imported from Hawaii.


California’s 1,100 miles of coastline is home to countless world-famous surf breaks. While also hosting the Surfers’ Hall of Fame and the International Surfing Museum. The state is also home to the International Surf Festival; the US Open of Surfing; the Mavericks Big Wave Surf Contest, and the Founders’ Cup of Surfing. Also, Cal-Berkeley physicist Hugh Bradner, invented the neoprene wetsuit, in 1952.


California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (@AsmMuratsuchi), who authored the bill stated: “Nothing represents the California Dream better than surfing.” Muratsuchi estimates that surfing is worth more than $6 billion to California's economy. Playing a key role in the state’s coastal tourism and recreation economy.


With surfing now the official sport of California, is it time that it becomes an NCAA regulated sport?

Growth


The sport of surfing has been seeing a growth in its appeal in recent years.


The World Surf League (WSL), the governing body for professional surfers, has seen its social media content explode in popularity. Building up a considerable global presence which includes 3 million Instagram followers. In comparison, the vastly more funded NHL only has 3.2 million.


This year surfing also saw, 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (@kellyslater), open his Surf Ranch facility. The facility, in Lemoore, California, boasts the best man-made wave in history. 700-yard, high-performance, bi-directional waves featuring barrel sections and maneuver sections. In September, the Surf Ranch successfully hosted its first professional event with the WSL.


More good news for the surfing community, came when it was included in the 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo. After a unanimous vote in 2016, by all 90 members of the IOC, to include the sport.


Surfing or Education


The sport of surfing has battled with the negative stereotypes of lazy, hippie types. So it might not surprise you that not a single member of the WSL’s Elite Tour, holds a four-year college degree.


This is not because the surfing culture doesn't value education. The number of college surf teams is increasing.


However, the elite version of the sport generally exists on the decision of either you are in or you’re out of the water pursuing a degree. The choice between a passion for sport and an academic future shouldn’t have to be this way. If promising surfers are motivated to pursue both, this should be encouraged.


Currently, the only way surfers can go to college and compete is by joining an intercollegiate surf team. These school teams are self-funded and competitions are organized by the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA).


The NSSA runs 80 events nationwide. While requiring participants to have an academic standard of 2.0. However, athletes lack the reputation of the NCAA and the benefits it provides. Such as covered costs like tuition, travel expenses, housing, and food. Furthermore, they miss out on being surrounded by like-minded, goal-oriented individuals. Whether that is coaches or athletic coordinators who can support athletes to be the best version of themselves.

The NSSA is the only option for surfers to compete if they want to get an education. Credit: cityofsantacruz.com

The Opportunities


There is an argument that might be raised, about the number of schools that could compete in surfing.


There are a number of NCAA schools sprinkled along the east and west coasts. Potentially, only these coastal states may be able to compete in an NCAA competition.


However, skiing is a sport with similar geographical restrictions and it has an annual NCAA Championship. Since 1954, skiing has been an NCAA mainstay. With the majority of championships being passed between the University of Denver, the University of Colorado, and the University of Utah.


Denver winning 24 championships, Colorado winning 20 and Utah winning 11. If skiing is able to survive as an NCAA sport, why shouldn't surfing be given the same NCAA benefits?


Surfing doesn't have the best record for helping help competitors pursue higher education. The WSL has failed to comment repeatedly, on plans to offer support to competitors with college ambitions.

Football, basketball, and baseball are sports recognized by the NCAA. They all offer support to promising athletes to earn a college degree. However, colleges can make money on these sports. Generally, through sponsorship of college bowl games, and March Madness. College-level surfing will not be able to attract the same level of sponsorship or even garner much hype.


All professional sports leagues allow for an athlete to skip college altogether. However, in the chance that this happens, the athlete is ineligible to be drafted into the league immediately, after high school. In the NFL, the delay is four complete seasons. In other words, why not go to college and get a degree while you wait for eligibility to play? That explains why 50% of players have college degrees.


In the NBA, the rule is only one year. Often players complete one year of college and skip out to play professionally. However, the G League is offering new ways around this. Baseball has the worst record of college graduates, with 4.3% of players possessing a bachelor’s degree. Still, this much better than surfing.


The school system is still considered important to the professional leagues. The three major sports all still incorporate, where the athlete attended school in a player’s bio online. We have all seen the player introductions during NFL games. The WSL does not incorporate this, because many would-be left completely empty.

One question we should ask about surfing before a change is made, what kind of sport we want surfing to be? Should the WSL require a year of college or a full degree?


This might push talent to colleges, opening up the opportunity of an NCAA Championship. Colleges could potentially see the benefits of new economic sponsorship deals.


To start this process professional surfing must recognize that it has a problem. The solution might be allowing prospects the opportunity to read more books.