Episode 9: Meet Dr Javier Leon, creator of the Geography of Surfing Course at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Listen to the Episode Here

Show Notes

I was intrigued when I found out that the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) near Noosa, Australia, announced a new course called “Geography of Surfing” elective for Bachelor students. In the wake of this announcement, I had to talk to the course’s coordinator, Dr Javier Leon…

Javier is a USC professor, a bodyboarder and a longboarder, who has a PhD in Coastal Geomorphology. His passion has always been the ocean and his research has enabled him to work along the world’s coastlines.

“I was going through university curriculums and I saw this one which was a Geography degree. It had two courses: it had oceanography and coastal geomorphology. I didn’t know what coastal geomorphology was, but it had “coastal” and I read the little description and it said something about beaches and waves and I’m like, “Yep that’s it, that’s what I need to do” ”. — Javier Leon

Javier has been spending the past 3 years preparing a new course called “Geography of Surfing” for undergraduate students. It’s a field elective at the USC near Noosa. He has and has curated a set of surf related subjects and research studies for his lucky students. He has convinced the crème de la crème of Australian surfing legends to teach some of the subjects that you’ll find about in our conversation.

“I’m very lucky because (…) my course is co-delivered with amazing people. I have for example Tom Wegener, who is this amazing shaper who is in the forefront of sustainability and he just got a PhD degree on sustainability of surfing. He will be delivering these courses and taking students to his workshop and showing them how to make surfboards with wood and cork.
I have Phil Jaratt who is this icon in surfing. He will be talking to my students about, not only (surfing) history, but also surfing and business because he’s played pivotal roles in the whole business.” — Javier Leon

During the episode, we find out what students learn, how to sign up and what guest star teachers students will have the privilege of meeting.

I sometimes wish I was 20 again, just to enroll in this awesome course. It is believed that this is the only course of its kind in Australia, and most probably, the world.

The Geography of Surfing elective includes lessons on the history of surfing, how surfing participates in the economy (a term called « surfonomics »), the impact of surfing on environmental management and many other fascinating surf related academic subjects.

If there is anything to take from this episode, it’s that academics and surfing go really well together. So go off and tell your parents (or your kids)! Dr Leon is a living breathing example of it. Also, taking this course in your career can be hard to start (you must study a lot) but the reward in life quality is immense.

You never know, work hard and with a bit of dedication, you could become a Doctor in Surfing!

“This guy (at University) is doing his PhD on “what makes a good cutback? ». He hooks up these sensors and then films, and collects all this data (accelerometers an stuff) and then he relates those numbers to what a good cutback looks like or is.
He goes to see judges, like Professional surfing judges, and they will go like “yeah this is an excellent cutback” and he’ll go back to his data. But it’s amazing, they can customize training programs for different people for different body shapes and sizes to optimise those types of things. So if you think about competitive surfing and if you think about the olympics this is just groundbreaking research.” — Javier Leon

With this academic approach to surfing, Javier and his colleagues are definitely pulverizing the beach bum archetype.

I guess you could say it’s about time!

In our conversation we talk about the issues the surf world faces with the gentrification of surf spots and the environmental management it imposes, the fascinating development of wave pools and the necessary protection of our coastlines. He even shares his advice on how to surf Noosa without the crowds!

Javier shares his experience of the kinds of research subjects that are intertwined with surfing and that will ultimately have an impact on jobs around the world.

I hope that it either encourages you (or your kids) to think about going to this awesome University. For the students (who know what a GPA is), there is no minimum GPA required, so just contact Dr Leon or the University via email for the admission procedures. Alternatively, you can go and meet him at the next Noosa Festival of Surfing in March 2019 where he will be helping raise awareness on the sustainability of this surfers’ paradise.

To connect with Dr Javier Leon, his email is jleon@usc.edu.au.

I would like to give a massive thank you to Javier for getting up super early in the morning to be on this podcast. He was up at 4:30 am to be in front of his computer and compromised a dawnie at Noosa (of all places), for the show!

The Oceanriders Podcast is a non profit operation and, I would like to thank you ever so much for being more and more listeners every week. You guys rock! If you enjoy listening, please rate or review the podcast on iTunes. The more reviews and rates I get, the closer I am to getting into the « new and noteworthy » section of Apple Podcasts and the more people get to discover the awesome guests in my podcasts.

If you want to get in touch with me there are loads of ways: email hello@theoceanriderspodcast.com, via my linktr.ee page here that will take you to wherever you want.

You can also connect with me and other listeners on my Facebook group called The Oceanriders Community. I post surf-related job offers so if you’re looking for a position near a surf spot, or for a surf brand, you may find your dream job there. Likewise, if you’re hiring, please feel free to share your post on the group too. The more the merrier!


University of the Sunshine Coast,
Javier Leon’s course « Geography of Surfing »,
Article on Surfonomics,
About Phil Jaratt,
About Tom Wegener,
Thesis by Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren on the case of the Australian Surfboard industry,
Book by Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren: Surfing Places, Surfboard Makers: Craft, Creativity and Cultural Heritage in Hawaii, California and Australia

Noosa World Surfing Reserve,
Noosa Festival of Surfing 2019


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