The Geography of Surfing course, possibly the first of its kind in the U.S., has been making waves among undergraduates since its introduction into the Department of Geography’s curriculum in 2004. Taught by Associate Professor Stuart Sweeney, the course provides an integrated view of regional, human and physical geography through the lens of surfing. To Sweeney, the topic of surfing at UCSB provides a natural vehicle to explore topics in spatial social science, physical processes, and their joint interaction. “Personal relevance helps the students make connections to advanced concepts in human and physical geography,” Sweeney says.
In addition to making waves, The Geography of Surfing has been grabbing headlines in the national press. Since it rolled in, the course been mentioned in Sports Illustrated on Campus, where they note the popularity of the course creates “lines past the sand dunes to enroll.” A recent mention in Playboy magazine describes it as “the most popular class at UCSB.” While not technically true, we’ll take the publicity. The course was on the trajectory to become a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, before it was pulled by a last minute editorial decision (conspiracy theorists, we welcome your suggestions as to why). Finally, the course was featured in NPR’s national Weekend Edition Saturday, where Stuart was interviewed by Scott Simon.
Stuart’s innovative course is important – not only because it turns the academic spotlight on the topic of surfing, but also because it has brought the methods of geographic analysis to a wide audience, both at UCSB and nationally. Unlike most of our entry-level courses in geography, more than half the students in The Geography of Surfing are freshmen and sophomores, while 20% are undeclared. Kudos to Stuart, and congratulations on the press and continuing popularity of the course!
(Article contributed by grad student Lisa Murawski)