UC Surf’s Up, Dude

UCSD has a concentrated but rich surfing culture, brought out by the students, but also institutions such as Outback Adventures and the UCSD Recreation surfing classes.

There is plenty of evidence that UCSD has a thriving surfing culture. Considering the school has a surf team, an on-campus rental shop and is within walking distance of the renowned Black’s Beach, it’s not an outlandish claim to make. In fact, UCSD is commonly ranked by Surfer Magazine as one of the “best surfing colleges” in the U.S. However, many will say the surf culture here is not as prominent as they anticipated — at least not on the surface. UCSD’s surf culture is comprised of a strong community of individuals who work to give students every opportunity to join and test the waters of the sport.

One of the most important institutions for tenured or aspiring student surfers is Outback Adventures, a retail surf shop on Library Walk and a rental shop in Sixth College. Here, students will find everything from apparel and surf gear to a safe haven giving people a break from chaotic schoolwork. In an office cluttered with surfing posters, paperwork and sports gear, we sat down with Isaac Brandl, manager of the Outback surf and rental shops, to talk about surfing in and around UCSD.

Brandl, who has been running the stores since they first opened in 2008, described having a poor experience his first time surfing because his friend took him to a beach with large waves and then left him to figure out what to do.

“I ended up getting washed up on the beach in a pile of kelp,” Brandl told the UCSD Guardian. “I told myself I was never going to surf again; it was the worst day of my life, and I didn’t get back on a board for eight years after that.”

Clayton Claiborn, the Aquatics and Surfing Director for UCSD Recreation, reiterated that one of the biggest mistakes beginners can make is going out on their own, adding that beginners often don’t know where to position themselves on the board.

“Before they even get in the water, the biggest mistake can be not taking a lesson and just going out on their own,” Claiborn told the Guardian.  “This can be dangerous to themselves and others; it’s hard for an untrained eye to gauge wave size and strength from the shore. Another mistake beginners make in the water is ‘pearling.’ This is when the nose of the board goes under the water when you try to catch or drop in on a wave, which causes them to fall forward and wipeout.”

Claiborn’s recreational classes teach students everything they’ll need to know to get out on the water and aims to give people a breather from studying that other schools don’t offer.

Graphic by Sofia Huang and Aleya Zenieris

In fact, according to both Brandl and Claiborn, a person needs a lot of knowledge in order to be successful in surfing. This includes the importance of learning on a foam longboard, as opposed to a fiberglass shortboard, which has less stability and buoyancy and a harder surface that is more likely to cause injury. They also both remarked that some beaches are better for learning, both in terms of what the surfers at those beaches expect from other surfers and from the power and height of the waves.

Claiborn in particular noted the sizeable difference between surfing at Black’s Beach and La Jolla Shores, with La Jolla Shores being a much-more-suitable beginner beach.

“The simple generalization is that La Jolla Shores has smaller and softer waves better-suited to beginning surfers, while Black’s is a larger, more-powerful break better frequented by experienced surfers,” Claiborn said.  “The community of surfers at these breaks often mirrors the type of waves, so you have a generally mellow vibe at the Shores with families of surfers and riders on larger boards designed to catch smaller waves. In many ways the competitive vibe at Black’s can be attributed to a need for safety given the often dangerous conditions, and all surfers should be respectful there to maintain the safest environment possible.”

Common knowledge among surfers reflect this, as La Jolla Shores is commonly listed among Southern California’s best learning beaches, while Black’s is sometimes considered to be one of the better breaks on the west-coast lists.

Claiborn’s contribution to the surfing community at UCSD is apparent in his ability to teach new surfers, while the Outback shops that Brandl runs are more multifaceted and contribute to the surf culture in smaller ways.

Brandl described the purpose of the Outback Surf Shop as being a space for students who want to get into surfing, in addition to being a store that sells surfing gear and beach apparel.

“We’re not here to make a fat check or put a ton of money back into the store,” Brandl said. “As long as we’re covering our expenses and doing rad things for students, that’s our goal. It’s not just a retail operation; it’s a community space for students. Kids know they can come in and we’ll talk about the surf or watch movies, or we’ve been holding events with other organizations. We try to use the store in more ways than just a place where people give us money.”

As an example, Brandl said that Outback will be offering classes on surfboard designing and shaping which will be offered every Monday evening for a one-time fee of $100, a notable discount from almost any other board-shaping class.

Brandl’s years of experience and knowledge with skating and snowboard shops provided him with the skillset UCSD wanted when looking for someone to run Outback Adventures.

“I knew how to run a mom and pop, I had a lot of board knowledge and knew the business side that goes into a retail store,” Brandl said. “It was like the job description was made for me.”

Even though it seemed to be a perfect fit, the store was initially met with resistance. Muir Skate Shop, the campus’s long-time go-to spot for students, was closing down as Outback was opening. Despite neither store having anything to do with the other, there was a sense of animosity directed toward the newly-established surf shop. However, Brandl and the school pushed forward, and the shop still stands today, largely without the same skepticism.

“Muir Skate was closing at the same time that we were opening, and they had nothing to do with each other,” Brandl said. “But all the sudden kids are like, ‘Boo, you’re such an asshole,’ and I had just gotten there. I wasn’t trying to kick anyone out. The kids thought the administration was trying to kick out this independent business and put in their own surf shop, but it wasn’t like that at all.”

Brandl feels that surfing is often a healthy part of student life and that UCSD is in a unique position as both a strong institution for academics and surfing.

“UCSD students are incredibly bright and often under intense academic pressure,” Brandl said. “Surf classes give students the chance to get down to the beach for a healthy and educational study break. I certainly think the surfing community at UCSD should be appreciated for its uniqueness, and students should appreciate the valuable wave resources we have here.”