Surfing 101

What if I told you there was a way you could live in a tropical paradise for a year and get barreled out of your brain, all the while getting paid to ensure your future burns bright?

If you’re studying or considering a considering starting up at university, knuckling down to get serious about your future doesn’t have to resign you to scrounging for coins, eating two-minute noodles and living at mum and dad’s for the next three years. And it definitely doesn’t mean your surf travelling days are done.

Did you know most universities in Australia have exchange programs in which you can gain credit from studying abroad – all the while continuing to receive sweet government assistance? It’s an opportunity that’s criminally overlooked by the vast majority of university students, particularly of the waveriding variety, who can be content to plod through uni life with just OK grades, but an all-time record for hours in the salt around home (speaking from experience).

The average student on Austudy – the government’s financial assistance to full-time students and apprentices aged over 25 in Australia – is $207.45 per week, which won’t allow you to do a great deal other than hit the books, plus provide you petrol money for a few weekly surfs and the odd six-pack (Youth Study, for those aged 18-24, has similar rates). But if you earn that money in Bali on the other hand… University students can continue to receive payments while studying overseas as long as it’s as part of a full-time Australian course. Clearly if you’re at uni, love travel and want to further your chances of getting work in the surf industry you’d be mad not to at least look into doing an exchange program.

Why is it worth doing? Using The University of Queensland as an example (one of the closest to where the author sits), its UQ Abroad exchange program website lists several ways an exchange can benefit starry-eyed youngsters heading off to study overseas:

1. “Become more independent, challenge yourself and explore the world.”

Pretty straightforward. If jumping into study at a foreign uni, where you know no-one and only have a basic grasp of the language sounds scary… well, that’s because it is. But think of the confidence, the ability to work independently and the people-skills you’ll gain from throwing yourself into the deep end – coveted traits by any employer.

2. “Broaden your degree and enroll in courses which are not offered at UQ.”

You’ll have to do some digging around yourself to find the courses that best suit your career aspirations, but obviously there are gems out there that are simply made for you. Cornwall College in the UK for example offers a Surf Science and Technology course, while international students looking to study in Oz might look into Southern Cross University’s Diploma of Sport Management (Surfing Studies) or Edith Cowan University’s Major in Surf Science. Those interested will have to look for themselves whether exchange programs here actually apply (research is a virtue, man), but they’re at least evidence of the kind of gold you might find.

3. “Discover new career opportunities and enhance your employability.”

A student exchange ain’t no LinkedIn friend request: you can actually use your international base to network with real, live people in the fields you’re interested in, opening up a world of opportunities. Imagine parking yourself at Huntington Beach, one of the action sports capitals of the world, where countless surf companies are looking for a talented and ambitious youngster like you. Get your schmooze on and play nice – that ripper you’re chatting to out the back at Rincon might just be the CEO of a global surf brand. In terms of enhancing your employability, at least anecdotally, world experience can be a major boon to your surf resume – this author landed his dream surf editorial role, largely due to his employer smiling upon his travel blog, updated regularly over nine months spent surfing in South America and Europe. The lesson – don’t underestimate the power of travelling (especially when coupled with work or study) and the experience it can bestow.

4. “Make new friends from all around the world.”

Another obvious one (and don’t forget that includes foreign friends of the opposite sex too ;).

5. “Live in another culture and improve your foreign language skills.”

It’s no secret that Australians, in general, totally suck at learning a second language, which is a shame since learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things a person can do. It can also open up a ton of career opportunities in heaps of countries you wouldn’t have had a chance at before (Spanish, for example, is the primary language in 20 countries worldwide).

The final and arguably most important benefit, which UQ doesn’t mention is that amount of barrel time you can log on foreign soil. Spin a globe, pick the dream spot you’ve been dying to surf and start mapping your plan to study there.

How do I do it? It’s not just a matter of shooting a quick email or sending in a form. You gotta work it, baby. The University of Queensland recommends you start planning your exchange at least three months before the application deadline. The process involves detailed applications to both your university and the foreign host university you hope to get a place at. The other key consideration is language. While many non English-speaking overseas universities do offer some courses in English, others in Latin America, Europe and Asia predominantly teach in the native tongue so you may be required to pass a language proficiency test. But don’t let that scare you off – if you’re really set on getting in to a particular non-English teaching uni, enroll in an intensive class at home well in advance, put in the hard yards studying it at home and pass that damn proficiency test – you won’t regret it.

The only question remains – where to try your luck? A quick search of the University of Queensland’s UQ Abroad page reveals more than 175 exchange agreements at universities in more than 40 countries, including two in Dublin (quick jaunt to Aileens, anyone?), three in Java, 12 in Tokyo, as well as one each in Rio De Janiero, Brazil; Lisbon, Portugal; and Cape Town, South Africa, among plenty of others in surf-drenched regions. Here are a few specific universities to get the ideas flowing (again, you’ll have to put the research hours in yourself to find which universities are actually open to exchanges and with who):

University of California at Santa Cruz, USA
As mentioned above California’s one of the global hubs of the surf industry, but if the Huntington region isn’t floating your boat Santa Cruz could be the university for you (don’t ask which one is the real “Surf City” though). Sure, the water might be chilly, but Steamer Lane isn’t far down the road and, if you really wanna get schooled, Mavericks isn’t far away either...

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
Kind of a no-brainer, this campus is around 45 minutes away from the North Shore and the waves you’ve grown up dreaming about – Pipeline, Sunset, Off The Wall etc. If that isn’t enough to get you tingling, the campus is reportedly one of the more picturesque getting around and famous alumni included Barack Obama’s old man, so you know it’s got the presidential seal of approval.

Udayana University, Bali, Indonesia
Located in the middle of Kuta, Udayana’s another obvious choice with the jewels of the Bukit Peninsula just a hop, skip and a jump (or more accurately, a chaotic scooter ride) away. Just remember you’re there to study and be sure to keep telling yourself that when you’re getting stuck into pre-exam beers at Single Fin at Uluwatu on a Sunday night.

Footnote: And if all this hasn’t swayed you to look into an exchange, note that US actor Matthew McConaughey, star of Surfer Dude – the worst surf movie ever made – went on an exchange to Australia as a 19-year-old. Earlier this week he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Coincidence? I think not.

Posted by: Jake Dean, on March 17, 2014
Categories: Articles