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Surf's up for students as new course makes a splash

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Bond University students Hedda Bjorgen, Mariell Kleiven, Vebjoern Hansen, Alexis Hay and Deborah Bakare.

Bond University students have immersed themselves in Gold Coast surf culture in a new course that is the only one of its kind in Australia.

The Gold Coast is claimed to be the only city in the world founded on the pastime of surfing, and students undertaking the subject Gold Coast Surf, Culture, and Storytelling learn about its rich surfing history and heritage.

Course convenor Assistant Professor Rob Layton said it was an opportunity for students to learn by experience.

“Bond University is right by the ocean, so students learn about ocean cultures and conduct classes at the beach,” he said.

Gold Coast Surf, Culture and Storytelling.

This involves learning to surf with former pro surfer Munga Barry’s school, and other field trips  including  to the World Surf League headquarters in Coolangatta and the Mt Woodgee surfboard factory at Currumbin.

Surf photography and videography using smartphones is also part of the curriculum, and student practice this in the Bond pool.

“The Gold Coast has produced so many surfing champions, from Rabbit Batholomew to Peter Townend, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkingson, Cheyne Horan, Steph Gilmore - the list goes on,”  Mr Layton said.

“That’s a deep pool of incredible talent that we have access to. It truly is a living history for students to experience first hand.”

The 1978 World Surfing Champion Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew joined the class on Burleigh Headland and spent two hours answering questions and explaining his part in the formation of modern professional surfing.

“We watched the documentary Bustin’ Down the Door, about the formation of pro surfing, and to then have Rabbit Bartholomew turn up the next week, the students were star-struck,” Mr Layton said.

Rabbit said he was thrilled to share his stories with the students.

“The Gold Coast has such a rich tapestry of surf history, it is really cool to see overseas students showing such interest in our surf culture,” he said.

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Charlotte Hughes catches a wave at Burleigh.

However, it’s not all sun and sand. The students are expected to make academic analysis of their field notes and observations.

“Essentially this is a study of sub-cultures, in what is called ethnographic participant observation. What that means is that the students become researchers who immerse themselves in a social setting to better understand that social phenomenon.

“In this case, it’s surfing.”

Mr Layton, a former career journalist who surfs Burleigh Heads every day, said a large part of that understanding is knowing the importance of place to identity.

“Burleigh surfers often like to think of themselves as different from other Gold Coast surfers, and much of that is because of Burleigh itself,” he said. “Jumping from the rocks is a big part in identifying as a Burleigh surfer, especially in larger swell, and this is typically an aspect of culture the students investigate.

“I have been part of the Burleigh community for a long time, so locals surfers have been more than happy to talk with the students and give their perspectives.”

The students are also introduced to Indigenous salt water culture.

“We are very fortunate at Bond to have a highly respected Indigenous Elder on staff.

“Uncle John Graham took students for a cultural awareness walk of Jellurgal (Burleigh), shared Dreaming stories, and explained the cultural and spiritual importance of the place to Aboriginal people.

“Most of the students are from abroad – Norway, Denmark, the United States – and their only experience of surfing had been in movies.

“Many have told me that taking this subject has been life-changing, that it has given them a deeper understanding of a culture they knew little about.

“The more we can broaden our thinking, and understand how other people live, surely that has to help make the world just that little bit better.”

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