Drs. Ben Cater and James Wicks are thrilled with the new Point Loma Nazarene University course they co-teach: LIT / HIS4090 – Surfing History and Culture. This is not surprising considering that they are both wave surfers.
“It’s a work in progress,” Cater noted of the first ongoing surf lesson. “It’s more of a conversation right now. But I would say the conversation makes a statement.
“The culture and history of surfing is an established field that is as rich as any tradition,” noted Wicks, who is originally from Taiwan and holds a PhD. in Literature from UC San Diego which focuses on Chinese cinema. “It deserves our attention and analysis in terms of gender, ethnicity, class and transnational connections among even more approaches (art, kinesiology, theology, business and politics). Of course, it’s also fun, which is the most serious reason to study any subject.
LIT / HIS4090 introduces students to the history and culture of surfing from the early 19th century to the present day. It explores the origin and evolution of wave surfing as it developed in Polynesia before spreading to southern California, Australia and beyond to become a global cultural phenomenon.
Readings, films and discussions focus on the people, places, ideas and key events that precipitated, embodied or reflected the changes in surfing.
“Since the history and culture of wave surfing is rich and broad enough to constitute a major study program, this course only serves to introduce students to a vast ocean of knowledge. Our hope is that you will come in, paddle and catch some waves, not just now but for the rest of your life, ”said the course co-instructors.
Wicks said the surf class grew out of a conversation he and Cater had on the PLNU campus.
“I told him, ‘I’d love to teach a surf film class,’ and our friendship and the course evolved through conversations and planning sessions in and out of the water.”
Each instructor teaches half of the 16 week course. Cater’s first eight weeks analyze the history of surfing. Wicks’ goal for the second eight weeks, including the finals, is a historical study of surf cinema from the 1950s to the present day.
“We are focused on producing, styling and aesthetics of this genre which raises important questions about representation, identity and ideology,” Wicks said.
Surf students watch Hollywood movies like “Gidget,” “Morning of the Earth,” and present-day documentaries like “The Wave I Ride,” director Devyn Bisson’s 2015 film about big wave surfer Paige Alms.
In addition to watching films, students read excerpts from texts such as “The Critical Surf Studies Reader” and “American Subcultures”. Also watched are short online documentaries such as:
Danielle Burt: Chapter Two – an above-knee amputee who surfs and talks about surfing: youtube.com/watch?v=LFW6zBGPMVc&feature=emb_logo.
Cater, associate dean and director of PLNU’s humanities specialization program, noted that Point Loma is a great place to teach a surf history and literature course, as the community “is widely recognized as a great spot. of surfing with very good breaks “. And he added that Sunset Cliffs “has produced many very important people for sport and culture.”
Will we see a major in surf history and culture, a full surf study program or a doctorate in surfing. soon ?
“The enthusiastic response to LIT / HIS 4090: Surfing History and Culture, demonstrated by enrolling over 40 students in the first iteration of the class, shows the potential for this class to grow further,” said Wicks.
“If students want to see a surf major become a reality, I would encourage them to reach out to their department heads and deans to express their point of view. And I would add that a surf major could work alongside our existing campus majors, rather than competing with the majors, or at the expense of the majors already in place.