Surf's up at university, but beach bums need not apply

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 12:00am

An Australian university has taken the country's obsession with sun, sea and surf to its logical conclusion, with the announcement yesterday that from next year it will offer a degree and a diploma in surfing.

The organisers of the one-year qualifications, from Southern Cross University, admit the courses may raise a few eyebrows among mainstream academics, but insist there will be no place for surf bums and slackers.

Although students will spend time learning to surf, or honing their existing surf skills, they will also be taught surf-event management, marketing and public relations.

Two courses are on offer from the newly established International College of Surfing Education and Research: a diploma of sport management (surfing studies) and an associate degree of sport management (surfing studies).

What was once seen as a dangerous sub-culture, representing rebellion and escape, has now become a multi-million dollar industry.

There are still dreadlocked surfies who travel Australia in their battered Kombi vans living only for the next wave, but today's surfer is just as likely to be a doctor or lawyer.

'The perception of surfers as lazy dole-bludgers is out of date,' said Dr James Skinner, who has drawn up the courses in collaboration with Surfing Australia, the sport's governing body.

'Nowadays you have a much broader cross-section of society, from bricklayers to judges, kids to retirees. Surfing is worth about A$8 billion (HK$34.2 billion) to the global economy.' Three of the biggest surf labels - Billabong, Quiksilver and Pro Curl - are based in Australia.

Quiksilver alone sells A$1.5 billion worth of surfwear each year - 37 per cent of the global market. Two years ago, Quiksilver's founders sold the world rights to the brand for about A$130 million.

The courses are intended to train the next generation of promoters, event managers and coaches for Australia's booming surfing industry.

About 30 students are expected to enrol for the courses in January. They will be based at the Tweed Heads campus, a spectacular stretch of coastline on the border between New South Wales and Queensland.

'We are five minutes from some of the best beaches in the world,' Dr Skinner said.

The courses will cost A$8,000 for locals and about A$13,000 for overseas students.

As with many university degrees, the curriculum will include a practical element - which in this case means 25 hours of surfing off idyllic beaches each semester. Students will also learn about surfing culture, watching classic surf films from the 1960s and 70s.

'The face of surfing is changing,' said Tom Campbell, Surfing Australia's business development manager. 'You can't just be a surfie bum anymore. The industry is looking for intelligent people with a proven track record in business management.' If the courses are successful, Surfing Australia hopes to license them internationally, setting up similar diplomas in Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand.

The organisers insist the qualifications are different from a surfing science degree offered by Plymouth University in England.

'They're looking at surfboard design and oceanography,' Mr Campbell said. 'We are concentrating on providing the type of people that the industry will need in the future.'