Surfology 101 at San Diego State’s New Center for Surf Research


Think surfing is small? Just look at the size of the surfboard at a surfing event held on California’s beaches!

With no formal studies ever existing in the U.S. focusing on surfing and its impacts, Sustainable Tourism Professor Jess Ponting is making waves in academia by establishing the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University (SDSU). Though it would be a hard sell in Midwest, on California’s shores surfing is big business as evidenced by crowds who attend some surfing events, and by the numbers of tourists who want to learn the sport, hoping to share the waters with seasoned pros.

San Diego, itself, is home to Sandieogopoly, a Monopoly game which features a surfer at Ocean Beach; Swami’s, a surfing spot where cultural icons mix with surf legends; Encinitas, where road signs warn of surf crossings by showing a person carrying a surfboard; Oceanside, where public schools have surf teams; and Tourmaline Beach, where locals meet in the parking lot to say hello before a morning or afternoon ritual of suiting up and surfing.

Of any state university in the nation, SDSU is the obvious place to offer courses and professional studies in surfing. Estimated to be a $7 billion industry by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, the professor seeks to research surf economics, and plans to take students to destinations driven by surf tourism which is impacting regions in a positive way, alleviating poverty and protecting the environment.

The professor who comes from Australia has a unique, global perspective on the industry and wants to help governments in developing countries understand the surf crowd so they can develop plans to handle the new wave of tourists.
Surfers aren’t like other kinds of tourists, because they will travel and visit places where the waves are best, no matter how far and difficult it may be to get to these surfing spots. When impoverished countries struggle to persuade tourists to return after wars and disasters, the traditional tourist becomes a hard & expensive sell, while surfers generally will continue to return. It’s a travel market custom made for countries such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Liberia, for instance.

How does the professor’s research impact California? No doubt more students will come to California to take courses under Ponting as the word spreads. Surfing is seen by the professor as a sport and industry worthy of study and that combines a variety of disciplines–economics, tourism and ecology, to name a few, and in tourism, it has the potential to help create a new wave of travel markets around the globe.

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