Stab Magazine | Aussie Uni Unveils New 'Science Of Surfing' Subject

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Aussie Uni Unveils New ‘Science Of Surfing’ Subject

Surfing may not be a sport, but it is a serious academic pursuit!

news // Nov 20, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Who knew surfing required such rigorous scientific analysis. Until today, we thought the only ways to get a job in the industry were to surf, film, or surf like shit and just write about it. 

This afternoon, we learnt how far from the peak we were. While we’re floundering in the wash, USC students are getting a first hand masterclass in aquatic academia. 

See, The University of the Sunshine Coast recently announced a new subject, the Geography of Surfing – otherwise known as the ‘science of surfing’. Students will be whipped into everything from the geographical factors which impact waves, to ‘surfonomics’ which looks at “where surfers are coming from and how much money they spend locally.”

The University claims that the subject will be beneficial to those studying “environmental science, management, and tourism degrees”. And while a surfing-related degree might appear less practical than a fine arts ‘receipt, from an economic standpoint, surfing is fucking booming. 

Obviously when I say ‘booming’ I’m not referring to the once prosperous brands who support surfing – it ain’t the noughties anymore – I’m talking about the coin that surfers splash in order to find better waves.  

The global surf market is expected to near $10 billion US by 2022, and it’s estimated that surfing indirectly contributes $50 billion to the global economy annually. Most of which is generated through surf-oriented travel, post-surf replenishment, and even travelling to the beach and back. While the act of ‘surfing’ itself is free, it’s far from the frugal sport of kicking a ball around a park. 

A Sydney University study in 2017 estimated that a ‘perfect peak’ can add up to 2.2 percentage points in gross domestic profit to a wave rich region per annum. Based on these studies they released the top spots nationally and globally receiving economic growth by piggy-backing on their ‘perfect’ wave. 

The top 10 Oz and global spots, based on research from ’92-’13. Source: USYD

This relationship however also tends the other way, the study also found that ‘losing a wave’ has notably averse effects on the economy; one example being when the Billabong Pro jumped ship from Spain when Mundaka lost its sand. Surfing events themselves may run at a loss, but the overflow tourism benefits are bountiful.   

Surfers aren’t splashing out on clothes anymore, our small expendable income is still going somewhere, and that somewhere is substantial enough to warrant being studied. Whether these economic ‘benefits’ are positive for these generally undeveloped regions is however questionable – as Jock Serong pointed out in a Guardian article, “surfers have degraded the island of Bali beyond recognition”, and Bali is merely a scratch on the lens of this topic – but assessing the carry over effects of these economic changes is one focus of the ‘science of surfing’ course.  

Capitalistic ventures aside, the subject also seeks to educate on the biggest issue currently facing human-kind. Climate change. 

“There’s already evidence that wave climate is going to change on the East Coast [of Australia]” Dr Javier Leon, the course coordinator said. “For example, southern swells, which push all the sand up the coast, are going to weaken – there’s already scientific studies to show that. We want to understand if there are threats to the wave quality.”

It ain’t all environmental and economic doom and gloom though, there’ll also be topics checking out wavepools and the effects an Olympic berth will have on our humble hobby.  

The kids who inevitably sign up to the course – whether out of genuine interest or looking to take the piss – will learn from the likes of Phil Jarrat and Noosa shaper, Tom Wegener – who has a PhD on surfboard surfboard sustainability.  

The course won’t help you actually learn to surf, and probably won’t improve your post-uni job prospects, but it will aid your knowledge of the impacts our once-innocuous hobby has on the world. Whether surfing is a ‘sport’ remains unresolved, but at least we’ve solidified it as a serious academic pursuit. 

So, if you’re going to USC, or are tossing up your options in your post-schoolies haze, the Sunny Coast is the only place you’ll find a subject of this nature. Who knows, maybe even Gabriel Medina’s Samsung surfboard will come in handy when you’re shredding while trying to study. 


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