From my Perspective

Surfs Up! September 25, 2002

“Let’s go surfin’ now
Everybody’s learning how
Come on and safari with me”
(Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson/Mike Love)

“If everybody had an ocean
Across the U.S.A.
Then everybody’d be surfin’
Like Californi-a
…We’ll all be gone for the summer
We’re on surfari to stay
Tell the teacher we’re surfing…surfing U.S.A.
…everybody’s gone surfing…surfing U.S.A.”
(Surfing U.S.A., The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson & Chuck Berry)

“I bought a ’30 Ford wagon and we call it a woodie (Surf City here we come)
…And we’re goin’ to Surf City, ’cause it’s two to one…
…Two girls for every boy”
(Surf City, Jan and Dean, Jan Berry/Brian Wilson)

It seems there are schools offering degrees in virtually everything these days. Educational facilities are always capitalizing on the need to have an official “diploma” of some sort. Even jobs that have traditionally been considered “unskilled labour” are being taught in schools and students can receive diplomas in areas such as janitorial services (1), and waiter/waitressing (2).

So I guess it was inevitable that a diploma in surfing would be offered one day. According to today’s Edmonton Journal, Australia’s Southern Cross University, with campuses in Queensland and New South Wales, is setting up the “International College of Surfing Education and Research.” (3) According to the article, the one-year course will offer an “academically challenging” curriculum where not only will students learn to surf or improve existing skills, they will be taught “surf event management, human resources, marketing and public relations.” An important component of the course will also be “surf slang and advice on how to avoid “?surf rage,’ the increasing incidence of violence on crowded beaches.” Living in Alberta it’s a bit hard to comprehend the concept of surf rage – since most of us would love to spend some time on a beach in Australia – no matter how crowded!

The organizers insist that there is no place for surf bums, but that the Diploma of Sport Management in Surfing Studies, will “train the next generation of promoters, event managers, lifeguards and coaches for Australia’s burgeoning surfing industry.” The article states that 25 hours of surfing will be part of the course (which does not seem like much hands-on experience). There are no indications whether the program will also include “Surf Music Studies,” “The Psychology of Baywatch,” “Surf Clothing,” or “Shark Attack Avoidance,” all topics that rate equal importance with “Surf Slang” and “Surf Rage” in my opinion.

As humorous as the concept may seem, it is rooted in logic. According to Dr. James Skinner of Southern Cross University, surfing is a multimillion-dollar industry that is worth “about $8 billion to the global economy,” with one Australian clothing manufacturer alone selling $1.5 billion dollars worth of surfwear every year. Certainly it will add a significant amount to the university’s economy – the one-year diploma cost is $8000 for Australians and $13,000 for foreign students!

I have argued in the past for the value of courses that are distinct from the mainstream, such as levitation (see Voice May 1, 2002 edition, Accreditation and Optional Courses), but I can’t help but wonder what will happen when a “rebellious subculture sport” such as surfing suddenly becomes a legitimate degree-granting activity. Will surfing start to lose some of its appeal? Will surf songs have the same meaning? Will Baywatch become required television viewing for students? And where with it end? Sport management degrees may well become the norm for any sport. Will athletics then become academic pursuits? Will we see a PhD in Surf Studies anytime soon?

What about other rebellious subculture activities? Will snowboarding and skateboarding be the next “sports” degrees? What about music degrees in rap, heavy metal, punk or alternative? Or degrees in witchcraft, psychic phenomena, yogic flying? The idea is not really that far-fetched, as all of these subjects are already being offered as course studies of one type or another. Whether they should qualify for university-degrees is debatable, but certainly any activity that attracts large numbers of people and consumes significant amounts of time and money will eventually attract the attention of the course-makers.

In my psychology studies I’ve learned about different types of intelligence. Intelligence is not measured simply by academic, scientific or mathematic abilities. There are also social and physical abilities that can be indicative of intelligence. According to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, people develop capabilities in seven areas, “linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily, kinaesthetic, musical and interpersonal/intrapersonal.” A person may be intelligent, even gifted, in many dimensions (4). Sports or Arts Diplomas and Degrees validate this notion.

Yet I can’t help but wonder. Once everything we do becomes regulated and normalized through degree-granting status, will we lose enthusiasm for these activities? Many have argued (quite successfully) that formalizing arts and music training can have the effect of diminishing creativity. Will we see a distinction between “surfers who have a degree” and “surfers who learned how to do it on their own”? Or a distinction between those who speak “university surfer slang” and “non-university surfer slang”? Even more importantly, what will happen when even the lowest-paid professions, or those done simply for sheer enjoyment, require a degree? Given the continual rise in tuition fees, this can only increase the distance between societies’ disadvantaged groups and those who are able to access educational opportunities.

A degree is a wonderful accomplishment. A person who has worked hard to achieve greater knowledge in a particular area of expertise, whether it be psychology, economics, accounting, music, or surfing; deserves recognition. But should we be attaching an official piece of paper to every one of these accomplishments to validate them?



(3) Edmonton Journal, 2002. Australian U gives academic status to Surfing. September 22, 2002.

(4) Winzer, 1999. Children with Exceptionalities in Canadian Classrooms. Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall Allyn and Bacon Canada, Don Mills, Ontario.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.

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