Surf center promotes global sustainability

by Brody Burns

File Photo
File Photo

Score one for Mother Earth. San Diego State recently launched the world’s first Center for Surf Research last month, in what can only be perceived as a major victory for the environment.

The center will serve as a nonprofit educational resource on the various aspects of sustainability in surf tourism. In reality, the implications of the Center for Surf Research will be much larger, as the effects will be felt throughout the local economy, within the educational landscape and through the movement for sustainability. The vision of the organization is as follows:

“Surfing’s impact on the world is entirely positive. By incorporating principles of sustainable tourism, surf tourism promotes healthy lifestyles and is a key driver for the environmental, social / cultural and economic well-being of destinations.”

The vision succinctly defines the major potential for the center. It presents the opportunity to impact behaviors, to inspire change, to research, educate and publish about the topic of sustainability and to become an expert on the industry of surf tourism. The center will have a significant presence on a local, national and global level, and could become one of the go-to resources on the topic of sustainability of our marine habitats.

Its creation is a notable move. Generally such ingenuity resides in the private sector, yet a public university is first to act in this instance. The American surf industry is estimated to be a $7 billion business annually. Millions of people go into the water on a daily basis, and millions more feel the responsibility to respect one of the world’s most precarious resources: the oceans. Countless people around the globe are embarking on surf sabbaticals, impacting the local cultures and environments of these destinations. Furthermore, surf research is by no means limited to only those who surf; anyone who enjoys the majesty of the ocean or feels a duty to respect the marine environment stands to benefit. The establishment of the center directly connects SDSU with this burgeoning market, and provides the opportunity to continue to impart this sustainable belief set to a larger audience. SDSU can be this direct conduit.

As SDSU is the first to act, it has the distinct potential to become the expert on of sustainability in surf tourism. Research and publishing will validate the program, as will the numerous students who undertake the curriculum and the development of partnerships with corresponding businesses. The program stands to attract outside specialists, environmental authorities and impressionable students to take part in an engaging educational process. According to the Center of Surf Research’s Director, Dr. Jess Ponting, awareness for sustainability is growing.

“I would describe it as a social movement,” Ponting said.

For SDSU to connect to this movement shows a progressive direction for the university as a whole. A sizable constituency feels compelled to address the problem, and education is one of the few means to accomplish change. Taking part in experiential learning directly in locales abroad will supplement the entire program and provide the impact of hands-on learning. Locally, the center will also provide a deeper connection between SDSU and the larger San Diego community, including one of the most thriving cultures in San Diego, the surf industry. Becoming increasingly linked with the local community is a positive move for any university.

In the end, the most influential impact will be on the environment. Currently, marine pollution is one of the most pervasive and caustic problems associated with our overconsumptive culture. Our behavior, specifically our impact on the natural landscape and the marine environment, is frightening. Chances are one of those wonderfully strong plastic grocery bags you’ve used at the store is floating in the Pacific Ocean. That cigarette butt you so casually tossed into the street has more than likely ended up on the shore. Dumping waste into the ocean is a regular behavior both on an individual level and on a larger systemic level. Because of a waiver of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the City of San Diego annually pumps 50 billion gallons of partly treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean. Our oceans cannot continue to serve as our garbage cans, and the belief set that the “solution to pollution is dilution” has to change.

Any means to raise awareness, or educate about sustainability of our marine environment is a good thing. On the most basic level, the Center for Surf Research presents this very opportunity. It will be the educational authority about a topic that is gaining significance in our culture.

With this comes an opportunity to research, publish, examine and change our damaging behavior. As scary as the prospect of documenting the exact implications of our current behaviors is, it’s necessary to fully understand the urgency of change needed. The Center for Surf Research is poised to be an incredibly influential entity.